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NY Man Appears to Be Building His Own Thruway Ramp

Friday, April 13, 2018

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A new offramp has started to take shape along the New York State Thruway, south of Buffalo, but there was never a contract issued: It's all the work of one man. 

The reasons for the project remain unclear, but the root of the cause may lie in the man, a member of the Seneca nation, protesting the loss of a recent legal battle against the state.

Eric White is the individual constructing the offramp, which leads to one of several businesses he owns—Big Indian Smoke Shop. In March, an administrative law judge issued a ruling that upheld fines totaling $2.4 million against White, for allegedly selling unstamped, untaxed cigarettes in 2012.

Legal Battle

White claimed that the sale and transportation of the cigarettes was legal given that they were native brands being shipped from one reservation to another in the state. White also noted that the fines were three-and-a-half times what the cigarettes themselves were worth, and the amount could be considered excessive under the Eighth Amendment. In the end, the judge rejected each argument.

According to White’s attorney Paul Cambria, White plans to appeal the ruling. Cambria is also representing White as the principle plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenges the state's right to impose taxes on native territories.

As for White’s offramp activities, Cambria noted that “[White] believes there is no valid easement that the Thruway has over sovereign territory.”

The Seneca nation recently issued a statement that it does not condone or support White’s efforts. “Although we know the reason for his actions, we look for a safe resolution addressing this situation.”

A spokesperson from the York State Thruway Authority also added that the agency is “looking into the matter to ensure the work does not interfere with the operation of the Thruway." A Federal Highway Administration spokesperson has also chimed in noting that any such work would need to be approved by FHWA, but he was unsure of how that policy applied to tribal land.

White will be arguing his case against state taxation on native territories before the New York State Court of Appeals on April 28. If things go in White’s favor, he will be absolved of the $2.4 million in fines related to the other case.

A surrogate of White’s told local news station WRGZ that White hasn't decided if he will speak about what his intentions are.

Other Lawsuits

According to The Buffalo News, lawyers representing the Seneca nation sued the state on Thursday (April 12), alleging that the state broke federal laws when constructing a 2.7-mile section of the Thruway through Seneca territory in southern Erie County. In the lawsuit, the Seneca are demanding compensation for use of the land, and a cessation of toll collection on the Seneca's Cattaraugus Territory. 

The Seneca allege that their leaders were "pressured" in 1954 to agree to an easement allowing the Thruway to be built on Seneca land, which is designated as an Indian reservation. The state reportedly needed federal government approval to get a land easement, but did not get that approval in the 1950s.

"This is a longstanding dispute between the nation and the state," the Seneca said in a statement. "The nation has openly denied the validity of the purported easement since at least 1993, and despite asking the New York State Thruway Authority to remit Thruway tolls to the nation, the NYSTA has refused, maintaining that the easement is valid despite the lack of federally mandated approval from DOI."


Tagged categories: Construction; Government; Infrastructure; Roads/Highways

Comment from john lienert, (4/13/2018, 7:01 AM)

"Little-Big Ramp"

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