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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe says MOU signed on land claims settlement

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AKWESASNE - The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe released the following information regarding a land claims settlement Wednesday afternoon:

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In a move that brings a decades-long land settlement closer to resolution than ever, leaders from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with officials from New York State and St. Lawrence County today.

The agreement outlines terms of a settlement agreement that would provide the Tribe the opportunity to return identified lands to its reservation and provide the county and local governments significant economic benefits in return. The agreement also provides all parties resolution and clarity on jurisdictional matters.

“Our Tribe and our people have worked toward this agreement for 32 years,” said Chief Beverly Cook of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. “Our Council is carrying the work from our past leaders forward; we’ve built on each other’s efforts, and we remain committed to a negotiated settlement that benefits our Mohawk people and our neighbors.”

According to the MOU, a final settlement agreement would permit the Tribe to acquire, only from willing sellers, identified lands in St. Lawrence County and return them to the Tribe’s territory. In exchange, local governments will receive payments from New York State covering any lost property taxes for the lands the Tribe is able to acquire. St. Lawrence County will also receive one-time payments of $2 million and $1.5 million from the State and the Tribe, respectively, as well as annual payments of $4 million from New York State to be paid in perpetuity. The funds would be unrestricted, allowing the County to use them as it sees fit. The agreement also clarifies matters related to jurisdiction and building codes.

The payments outlined in the MOU are in addition to the local share of casino revenues generated under the Tribe’s gaming Compact with New York State. Under the existing distribution formula, the estimated annual payments include approximately $1.45 million for St. Lawrence County and $725,000 each for the Towns of Brasher and Massena.

The identified lands in St. Lawrence County which the Tribe can attempt to acquire include approximately 3,440 acres in the Town of Brasher and approximately 1,360 acres in the Town of Massena.

In exchange for the right to acquire and return identified lands to its recognized Reservation, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe will also receive annual payments from the New York Power Authority (NYPA) of $2 million for 35 years; up to nine megawatts of power and energy at NYPA’s lowest rate to meet the needs of the Reservation; and free tuition and fees for enrolled Tribe members who qualify for admission to any State University of New York (SUNY) institution of higher learning.

“This is a historic time for our Mohawk people, which has been born of the hard work, vision and dedication of many of our leaders over several years,” said St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Chief Paul O. Thompson. “The terms to which we agree today not only repair our past by allowing our Tribe to recover our lands, but they also provide opportunities for our future generations through education. As Tribal leaders, that is our commitment and responsibility - to ensure that our future generations have the opportunities they need, and that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe needs, to succeed and flourish.”

While the MOU, which is also supported by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, outlines terms and benefits for St. Lawrence County, the Tribe has also been working to resolve boundary matters with neighboring Franklin County. A final settlement cannot be enacted without support and sign-on from Franklin County, followed by local, state and Congressional approval.

“We are proud to stand here with our neighbors from St. Lawrence County and we hope that our friends from Franklin County will also come to the table,” Chief Ron LaFrance of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council said. “The settlement of our land matters will benefit our entire region, just as the benefits of our Tribe’s economic expansion have reached far into our neighboring communities.”

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is one of the North Country’s leading economic engines. The tribe currently employs more than 1,600 people at its various enterprises, including the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, with an annual payroll of $47 million. More than 65 percent of the tribe’s employees live in Franklin County and 33 percent live in St. Lawrence County. In addition, the tribe has also worked with 244 vendors from Franklin County and 281 vendors from St. Lawrence County, thereby supporting hundreds of local jobs.

The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort attracts more than 1.3 million people to the region each year, and has generated more than $86 million in exclusivity payments to New York State since 2005, a portion of which is shared with the local community, in accordance with the tribe’s Compact agreement with the State.

“Shared economic success and friendship know no boundaries,” LaFrance added. “We have invested more than $100 million in local planning, infrastructure and construction projects over the past three years. We have worked together to build our business and improve the quality of life across our communities. This is our home - forever. No single issue holds more importance to our people than restoring our territory. Our hope, our energy and our focus is on working through this matter in a continued spirit of partnership.”

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Below are highlights of the Memorandum of Understanding, dated May 28.

The Governor of the State of New York and the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators will endorse a final negotiated Settlement Act that requires:

■ The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to immediately release to the State of New York, upon the effective date of the negotiated Settlement Agreement, the remaining balance of gaming revenues withheld in prior years, and requires the State to distribute those funds under the existing formula, resulting in an immediate payment of approximately $1.875 million to St. Lawrence County and $937,500 each to the Towns of Brasher and Massena.

■ An immediate, one-time payment of $1.5 million from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to St. Lawrence County.

■ The State to make:

o An immediate, one-time payment of an additional $2 million to St. Lawrence County for its unrestricted use;

o An additional annual payment of $4 million to St. Lawrence County for its unrestricted use; and

o Payments to St. Lawrence County and respective towns sufficient to hold them harmless from the loss of future property and school taxes for parcels that become part of the Reservation;

■ The State to assist St. Lawrence County and the Town of Brasher in obtaining authorization to use all-terrain vehicles on trails in the Brasher State Forest.

■ The State to assist St. Lawrence County and the Town of Colton in obtaining the required designation to allow all-terrain vehicles use on a short portion of State Highway 56 as part of the Countywide multi-use trail.

■ The State to initiate an environmental review process for the Route 11 bypass, a four lane limited access highway, around the Canton and Potsdam areas in St. Lawrence County.

■ The NYPA to enter a long-term lease for the use of the hangar being constructed at the Massena International Airport.

■ The State, through the Governor, to submit legislation authorizing the monetization by the New York Power Authority of unallocated portions of 20 megawatts of hydropower currently dedicated for economic development purposes in St. Lawrence County, and authorizing the use of monetization funds for economic development purposes in St. Lawrence County in coordination with the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency

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