On Wednesday evening, hundreds of citizens from across Cayuga and Seneca counties filled the New York Chiropractic College’s Athletic Center in Seneca Falls to make their voices heard on an issue of critical importance to them, their families and respective communities. Some carried signs, some spoke, some sat and listened, but everyone understood that the issue being discussed would have a profound impact on the future of this region.
That issue is an ongoing effort by the Cayuga Indian Nation to have nearly 130 acres of local lands placed into a trust. This proposal is highly controversial and rightly so. I and many other local leaders, including County Legislators and Town Supervisors from Cayuga and Seneca counties, believe it would negatively affect their quality of life, add to the already tremendous financial strain on local governments and taxpayers, while setting a dangerous precedent for allowing unregulated, unsupervised commercial development. It is no exaggeration to say a majority of speakers at the public hearing were strongly opposed to the project.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) sponsored the hearing to solicit public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, also known as a “DEIS,” it recently issued for the project. A DEIS is required by law and is supposed to provide specific details pertinent to a project’s environmental, social and economic impacts on a community, and its residents, so an informed judgment can be made. There are many good reasons why so many local residents and elected officials are strongly opposed to the project. Those reasons include the following:
INCOMPLETE DEIS: The DEIS issued by the BIA for this particular project was incomplete and inadequate due to a lack of empirical data to support its conclusions and findings. Equally concerning, the DEIS failed to take into account litigation that is pending against the project and should thus be withdrawn until all the legal issues are settled.
LOCAL TAX HIKES AND SERVICE REDUCTIONS: Another area of concern to myself and local leaders opposing the project centers around the fact that removing this amount of acreage off property tax rolls would add to an already considerable fiscal burden on Cayuga and Seneca County homeowners whose local taxes will increase to make up for the shortfall.
Additionally, taking these lands off the tax rolls will curtail much-needed revenue for local governments, many of whom are already struggling to do more – and make do – with less when it comes to delivering essential services.
UNREGULATED COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT: What could possibly be the most damaging result of the proposed conveyance getting a green light is that any development on the acreage would be exempt from state public health and environmental regulations. This also extends to local zoning ordinances and land use regulations. Imagine waking up to news that a ten-story hotel will be built on the land adjacent to your neighborhood. Or think about all the increased traffic congestion on local roads if a giant, new strip mall were suddenly dropped into a community. Think it can’t happen? If this proposal goes through, you may want to think again.
However, we are not powerless in putting the brakes on this project and preventing these worst-case scenarios from happening. As demonstrated by the standing-room-only crowd Wednesday night, there is tremendous grassroots opposition across the community to this project. As the State Assembly was in session and I could not attend Wednesday’s public hearing in person, I submitted a written comment to the BIA outlining my strong opposition to the proposal, and I urge you to do the same. Here are some important facts and contact information you will need to do so:
The public comment period for this project extends until Monday, July 6, 2009. Written comments should be sent to: Franklin Keel, Regional Director, Eastern Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 545 Marriott Drive, Suite 700, Nashville, Tennessee 37214. Also, you may fax your written comment to the BIA at (615) 564-6701. Remember, all comments must be received at the BIA by its July 6 deadline for inclusion as part of the public record. For more details on the project’s negative impact on our region, go to the following informational website: www.nocayugalandintotrust.net. There you will find useful information to include in any comments submitted to the BIA.
In this day and age, when citizens have, regrettably, come to expect less from their government, it is critically important to remember who holds the power in our democracy – we, the people, have the power! Your letters and faxes will have a direct impact in helping stop this misguided project and, as a result, protect the quality of life for families in Cayuga and Seneca counties. If enough people raise their voice, we can keep our local lands under local control. To request a written copy of the public comment I submitted against the project, please call my office.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.