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Niagara Falls businesses voice opposition to Seneca gas station near casino

NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara Falls businesses are speaking out against a planned Seneca Gas Station on sovereign territory near the Seneca Niagara Casino.

The Niagara USA Chamber issued a release on Monday saying it cannot support the Seneca Nation’s plan to open a 24–bay gas station on sovereign land within the City of Niagara Falls.

Korey Schuler, the Chamber director of government affairs, said the Chamber’s board represents 30 or so members, including the casino.

While the Chamber respects the rights of the Senecas as a sovereign nation, Schuler said, the Chamber believes a tax-free gas station would be devastating to local convenience stores, businesses and the city and county.

Schluer said the Chamber issued its concerns publicly on Monday in the hopes of convincing the Senecas to rethink the project.

This issue first arose after the 2002 gaming compact was drafted, said Schuler. Many interpret the language of the compact as precluding a gas station on Seneca land.

“We don’t want this to be perceived as taking a shot at the Senecas,” Schuler said. “They have every right to develop their land. It’s just an issue that has been around since the gaming compact of 2002. It resurfaced again in 2012 and then that was tabled.”

Seneca Nation President Maurice A. John said in February that the “project is in keeping with those sovereign rights as recognized by the federal government.” He called the new station a “right and responsibility.”

Construction crews were announced to begin work soon, although no date has been officially announced, with the station planned to open in the summer in the 600 block of Niagara Street.

Carl Hasselback, a wholesale distributor for gasoline and diesel fuel for White Arrow, which supplies a number of local gas stations, who is also the owner of Jim’s Truck Plaza, has been fighting against tribal stations for a number of years. He says they violate a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision which found tribal stations do not have the right to sell cigarettes and gasoline tax-free to anyone other than other tribal members.

He said he is concerned that there has been no response from the Governor’s Office on the plans for the Falls station.

“Four years ago, the governor’s point man, (director of state operations Howard) Glaser, said you have no right to do this. He wasn’t talking about the Supreme Court case, but the gaming compact,” said Hasselback.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster has pointed to the same letter, in which the state supported the city’s opposition and ended a proposed plan for a gas station.

Both men want to know what has changed since 2012.

In 2013, Cuomo and then-Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. agreed to end its casino standoff, acknowledging that the state had violated the casino compact of 2002 in marketing racetracks as casinos. But unlike an Oneida-nation settlement which specified that Oneidas would charge a sales tax on cigarettes and gas for non-Native customers, the Seneca settlement was silent on the issue of tobacco and gasoline sales.

Hasselback said the proposed size of the project leaves no doubt that the tribal station intends to take away all of the gasoline businesses in Niagara Falls.

“No one is going to have 24 dispensers in Niagara Falls unless they intend to close everybody else down,” said Hasselback. “If they do this in Niagara Falls and get away with it, you are going to have (a gas station) at Buffalo Creek before you can spin around.”