ALBANY - The Cuomo administration threatened today to shift nearly $50 million in state road projects within Seneca Nation territories to other communities unless the tribe quickly drops its demands for "exorbitant'' payments from Albany.
Worsening relations between the tribe and state was evident in two dueling media events: one called by the head of the state transportation department a few miles outside the tribe's Cattaraugus reservation to deliver the project cancelation threat and one later in the day by Seneca officials to declare the Cuomo administration's actions may be putting motorists at risk.
The Senecas urged federal transportation officials to step in and investigate the Cuomo administration's actions involving the use of federal road funding money for the stalled projects, including the interstate highway known as the Southern Tier Expressway.
"We're getting to the breaking point and the state's willing to jeopardize public safety to achieve political purposes," Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Portersaid.
The Buffalo News reported earlier today of a plan by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to place into escrow $3.4 million to satisfy Seneca demands that the state pay a 3.5 percent fee and other amounts for state road work performed on its reservations. That, the state said, would clear the way for a couple projects, including work on a delayed, $29 million initiative to repave a 12-mile portion of the Southern Tier Expressway running through the Seneca Nation's Allegany reservation.
But Cuomo said the money would be taken as a "credit'' against the more than $400 million the tribe owes the state as part of a separate dispute with Albany involving revenue sharing payments from the nation's three Western New York casinos.