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Editorial: First the Thruway, now the casinos

It took far too long, but the good news is that New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians have agreed to a plan that will allow for desperately needed repairs on three jarring miles of the Thruway.

The rutted roadway stretches between Exits 57A and 58. It’s so bad, most drivers would avoid it if any practical alternative existed. The section of highway crosses Seneca land and has been allowed to deteriorate as the state and tribe argued over … something.

But the two entities have now put aside their mutual grievances to come up with a plan that, barring bad weather, should see the road rehabilitated within eight to 10 weeks. The question that needs to be asked next – at least by the residents of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca – is what, if anything, this means regarding the Senecas’ nonpayment of money it owes the state from its casinos in those cities.

New York State had declined to repair the road partly on grounds that it would weaken its demand that the Senecas make good on their $255 million debt. The tribe has withheld payments because the compact with New York specifically required them to be made only through 2016. The matter went to binding arbitration, as required by the compact. The Senecas lost but, despite their legal commitment to arbitration, they referred the matter to the federal Department of the Interior. And there it stands.

Clearly, some understanding was reached on this matter to allow the urgently needed repairs on the Thruway to begin. The question now is how that agreement affected the Senecas’ determination to stiff the state and when, if ever, they will fork over what they already own – with interest – and resume regular payments.

Their greed is causing financial pain in the cities that host their casinos. They think that the state’s carelessness in reviewing the compact – and it was careless – overcomes the opinion of the arbitration panel and allows them to get something of tremendous value for nothing. It’s wrong.

It’s important that the Thruway is being repaired and if the state and Senecas haven’t already reached an agreement that will allow future maintenance to be undertaken as needed and without drama, then they should. This standoff was both dangerous and adolescent.

Now they need to get busy concluding the argument over casino money and there’s only one way for it to end: with the Senecas paying in full.

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