MASSENA — Negotiations to settle the decades-long land dispute over lands in Franklin County claimed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe have only one sticking point left to hash out.
Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman Don Dabiew, R-Bombay, said the county is continuing to push the state to ensure that payments made as part of the settlement would not be solely reliant on revenue from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort. These payments from the state would effectively compensate the county for lost tax revenue on properties that become part of the reservation.
“The state would pay us the taxes on those properties just as if there was a taxpayer on those properties,” Mr. Dabiew said. “They’re saying there’s enough money coming out of the casino to do that, but we just are worried that down the road there may not be.”
It appears the state is bent on tapping state gaming commission funds from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort to feed into the county as part of the settlement agreement. Mr. Dabiew said the parties — Franklin County, town of Bombay, town of Fort Covington and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe — came to an agreement on virtually every other part of the settlement last November, but he wants to commit the state to making the payments regardless of what happens to the casino. This was also backed up by a memo filed in federal court by the lawyer for the towns and counties at the end of September.
“It could come out of the general fund as a line item. We don’t really care where so much,” Mr. Dabiew said. “It’s like signing your house over to somebody and not sure if you’re going to get the payment.”
Talks, Mr. Dabiew acknowledges, were making tremendous progress in the last five years. In January, the parties met for an in-person discussion at the state Capitol, according to a court filing. The filings indicate that despite the one “stumbling block,” talks continue and the parties remain hopeful.
The governor’s press office did not respond to request for comment.
The land dispute has been ongoing since 1982 when the St. Regis Band of Mohawk Indians first filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Northern District of New York. The original suit argued that an area, just south of the existing Akwesasne reservation known as the Hogansburg or Bombay Triangle, is Mohawk territory, according to an 18th century treaty with European settlers. For many years, the sides have been trying to negotiate a settlement in the case.
Mr. Dabiew said as it currently exists, the settlement would require lands owned by tribal members in the Bombay Triangle to go through the process of being included in the reservation.
In 2014, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators authorized the chair to sign a memorandum of agreement with the tribal government that would effectively settle the suit and exchange the land for several million dollars in tax revenue along with a number of other provisions, but that agreement is null until Franklin County settles.