Dyster Concerned As Seneca Gas Station Moves Forward

By Tony Farina;

 

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A tax free gas station is coming to Niagara Falls. It is not exactly what Falls’ officials envisioned when they welcomed the Seneca Gaming Compact giving a people by ethnicity a monopoly on gaming in Western New York.

 

 

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who saw his city held hostage during the four-year gaming dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation, is once again caught in the middle, this time over the construction of a convenience store and gas station on Seneca land even though the state has said it is in violation of the gaming compact.

“They [Senecas] did receive a letter that it [gas station] was inconsistent with the compact,” Dyster said during an interview on Wednesday.  But Dyster noted the steel has gone up on Seneca land behind the casino on Niagara Street, saying “we’re very concerned.  We want to protect local businesses.”

 

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While perhaps advantageous to consumers, the tax free gas station the Seneca Gaming Corp. is building in downtown Niagara Falls should give them a monopoly for gas sales as other gas stations crumble under the weight of New York taxes…..

And Dyster also expressed concern about the stability of the gaming compact, and given the fresh memories he has about the long gaming dispute that threatened the city’s very survival until a settlement was reached in June of 2013, his concern is understandable.

Niagara Falls Councilman Ken Tompkins is also frustrated and angry over a new tax-free business opening on Seneca land, saying “what will it do to other businesses in the area that have been there for a very long time.  It is an unfair advantage and it takes away from people and businesses who have to pay taxes.”

 

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Arrow shows where new tax free gas station will soon be located.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office advised the Senecas back in 2012 by letter, citing a section of the gaming compact that the property is to be utilized for “gaming and commercial activities traditionally associated with the operation or conduct of a casino facility.”  The provision, according to the state letter, was intended to protect local businesses from being placed at a competitive disadvantage, as will be the case with the new smoke shop-gas station.

Robert Odawai Porter, president of the Seneca Nation at the time, said the Senecas did not read the language in the compact as narrowly as the state, calling the state’s narrow interpretation “revisionist bordering on the absurd.”

That disagreement on the reading of the compact is what is at issue now, and Dyster is certainly right to be cautiously concerned about the stability of the agreement although as he did during the gaming dispute, he is working behind the scenes to try and promote dialogue and find ways to relieve the city’s concerns about an unfair playing field.  But as things stand now, the project appears well underway and it may be too late to stop.  So what, if any, accommodation can be reached remains to be seen.  Cuomo’s office referred a reporter to the DEC, but we were unable to reach anyone on Wednesday.

But that’s not the only concern city officials have when it comes to the Seneca casino.

Councilman Tompkins says city police get over 500 calls a year to respond to the casino, an average, he said of a call-and-a-half every day.    “And the average stay is about three hours,” he said,  “and we receive nothing to cover the costs from the Senecas.”

Tompkins said the state police used to cover the casino but left because the Senecas stopped paying them and negotiations have failed to bring them back.

Niagara Falls Police Supt. Bryan DelPorto said the city has been providing free protection at the casino for the last three years, and he said last week it would be difficult to put a number on what that is costing the city.  But obviously, with at least 500 calls a year, the cost is very high.

Tompkins, who feels the city needs to get out of the compact so that something can be done about the situation but that might be easier said than done.  Tompkins did say he will have a plan to unveil at the next council meeting, Sept. 2, about the obligations involved in providing police and fire protection on Seneca land.  He said he is still putting the plan into its final stages and preferred to withhold further comment until the council meeting.

We wrote many stories about the long gaming dispute that ended in June of 2013 when Cuomo was finally able to negotiate a settlement on the gaming revenue, but even though Niagara Falls finally received $89 million from the agreement, the long  fight had drained city finances and left the city teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Now here we are more than three years later and there’s more problems associated with the compact and no word from the state about what, if anything, it can do to stop a tax-free Seneca business from opening in Niagara Falls and undercutting local businesses with its built-in advantage.

It would appear that many officials belive that it is time to revisit the compact, as Tompkins and others appear to support, and protect the taxpayers of Niagara Falls from carrying the burden of supporting a non-taxpaying sovereign nation that in the words of Tompkins, is not acting like a good neighbor and is competing unfairly with taxpaying citizens.


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