The Salamanca city attorney warned Thursday what would happen if a group of residents succeed in their attempt to overturn a new lease agreement with the Seneca Nation of Indians.
"They are putting at risk a city of 6,000 people . . . and could jeopardize the leases of 3,000 Salamanca property owners . . . the majority of whom are willing to accept the new lease," David W. Franz told U. S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara.
The argument came during a five-hour hearing on a bid by SCOUT -- Salamanca Coalition of United Taxpayers -- for a temporary restraining order against further implementation of the lease.
Arcara said he expects to rule Jan. 3.
He also will hear arguments then on motions to dismiss the suit SCOUT filed against the Salamanca Indian Lease Authority, its individual members and the Salamanca city attorney, seeking $3 million in punitive damages. The current 99-year-lease between Salamanca property owners and the Seneca Nation, which owns most of the land on which Salamanca is built, will expire Feb. 19.
SCOUT, which claims 600 paid members, is pressing to have the leases renewed for 99 years rather than 40 years with an option to renew for another 40 years, as called for in the new agreement. They claim an 1875 treaty requires the Seneca Nation to renew the 99-year leases. It also wants the Salamanca Indian Lease Authority dissolved.
Jennifer Coleman, attorney for SCOUT, told Arcara that the 30-month negotiations that led to the lease agreement were "a one-man show run by Mr. Franz . . . with no input from the citizens of Salamanca."
She also said "the citizens of Salamanca do not trust SILA (the Lease Authority), and they do not like the way things are being done for them."
Douglas Endreson, attorney for the Seneca Nation, said that as far as the nation was concerned, "it is a sovereign entity, which cannot be brought into court, and our being here today has delayed the implementation of the lease to go forward."
Endreson said the state had planned Thursday to discuss a schedule for the $25 million it has agreed to pay the Senecas.
The federal government has agreed to include a one-time $35 million payment in next October's budget.
Both payments are for inequities suffered by the Senecas who, for almost 100 years, have received lease payments of as little as 25 cents.
With the new lease, the Seneca Nation's annual income from the Salamanca leases would increase to $800,000 from its present $47,000.
Endreson agreed with Franz that any leaseholder had the right to reject the terms negotiated by the city's and the Nation's lease committees and deal directly with the nation. But he added "the nation is now operating within a very short time frame to meet the Feb. 19 deadline and process 3,000 leases." He also told the court that Congress listened to SCOUT's objections at hearings on the lease agreement but approved it anyway.
R. Williams Stephens, representing Franz and lease authority members, argued that "the people of Salamanca are in a very precarious position, and they don't like to recognize the fact that the Seneca Indians own the land they live on."
He criticized Ms. Coleman, who questioned $90,000 the Salamanca City Council approved for lease authority expenses during the negotiations, for attacking the Lease Authority members who "gave hours and hours of their time with no compensation."
"Now they are being pilloried in the press with statements saying they engaged in fraudulent activities and spent money which they had no right to spend," he said. "This is irresponsible."
"What SCOUT's complaint really is," he added, "is that they don't like the terms of the lease."