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Seneca leaders should give up their plan for a Niagara Falls gas station complex

The Seneca Nation and its gaming corporation may have decided they have the right to build and operate a gas station and convenience store on sovereign territory near Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, but they should reconsider.

The facilities do not belong there. It is as inappropriate now as it was four years ago when the nation talked about building a similar project. Back then the state stepped in to stop it. The current Seneca leadership insists that the nation’s activities are not governed by the state, only by the federal government.

It is one thing to build a casino with a hotel and entertainment venues. The resort was intended to help Niagara Falls compete with the tourist-friendly city across the river. It is something quite different to create businesses that use tax advantages to compete unfairly against established gas station and convenience store owners.

This is not a matter of distance between similar businesses. If there is a void to be filled, let it be filled by businesses playing by the rules governing their industries, including New York’s heavy dose of regulations and, especially, taxes. The nation wants to ignore those factors that drive up the cost of doing business and pocket the difference. What was once just a casino catering to tourists will now include retail outlets. And surely that won’t be the end of it.

Seneca Nation leaders want to expand their footprint on what they say is their own sovereign territory. And they are not stopping at a gas station and convenience store. They have also looked into an entertainment complex for the area and have asked local politicians to lobby developer Howard P. Milstein, who owns or has claim to more than 140 adjacent acres, to agree to discussions on a new convention center.

The nation controls 50 acres in the city, bordered by Niagara Street to the north, John B. Daly Boulevard to the east, Rainbow Boulevard to the south and Third Street to the west. The new development, as recently reported in The Buffalo News, will be near the intersection of Daly Boulevard and Niagara Street.

The plan is to break ground for the station in the near future and open by June. It will include the capacity for both petroleum and electrical energy.

The chief executive officer of the development agency for the Seneca Nation has indicated a “tremendous need for gas,” citing demand by their own clientele as well as people traveling into the area.

The Buffalo News obtained a request for proposals last month that stated that a One Stop station would be located at 621 Niagara and have 20 to 24 pumps and four 10,000-gallon underground tanks. Such build-out would offer robust, but unfair, competition.

The gas would be tax-free, just as at other tribal gas stations, except this facility would offer gas at “market rate.” Setting the price of gas artificially high while enjoying tremendous tax advantages would be a windfall for the Senecas and make them financially able to set the “market rate” of gasoline wherever they want.

The nation’s leaders believe they are on firm ground. The federal government approves Seneca Nation territories and the state puts no restrictions on the land, they say. Seneca leaders made the right decision 3½ years ago when they canceled plans for a similar development. They should exercise the same judgment now.