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Unions urge Cuomo to settle fee dispute over I-86 repair work

The leaders of four unions are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to settle a dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians and revive a stalled $28.5 million project on the Southern Tier Expressway.

The union leaders say they want the dispute resolved quickly to ensure work on the expressway, also known as Interstate 86, gets started in time for the current construction season.

"We fully support this project going through Seneca property; it is a necessary project for the members to get back to work, and that section of Interstate 86 is in dire need of repair," wrote Edward Giardini Jr., business manager of Olean-based Laborers Local 621.

The Seneca Nation is demanding $1 million from the state before state contractors can work on the project, which goes through the Nation's Allegany Territory.

The Seneca Nation says the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance, adopted in 1993, requires a 3.5 percent administrative fee whenever the state comes onto tribal lands for major projects. The state has typically paid this fee for projects, but has declined to do so in this case, and notified the Seneca Nation President, Robert Odawi Porter, of the decision in mid May.

The state has contended the project amounts to routine maintenance and for that reason, the fee does not apply. The Seneca Nation disagrees.

The unions' letters urge Cuomo to resolve the matter. A statement issued by the Seneca Nation says the four unions represent more than 5,000 construction workers in Western New York and praises their support.

In Giardini's letter, he says Laborers Local 621 has many Senecas among its members, and that the union has "a long and great working relationship with the Seneca Nation of Indians."

Letters from two other unions -- Lake View-based Operating Engineers Local 17 and Rochester-based Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Local 276 -- also call for quick action. The Seneca Nation said West Seneca-based Ironworkers Local 6 also wrote to the governor.

Alan Pero, supervisor of Operating Engineers Local 17, urged the state to comply with paying the administrative fee. He called the road "in terrible condition" and "hazardous."

"The $28 million contract is not simply maintenance," Pero wrote. "Moreover, if the state held this belief, it is unclear why the bid documents would include the [administrative fee] requirements."