BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI North Country This Week CANTON -- A settlement from a long standing land claim dispute between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and St. Lawrence County has taken another step forward …
BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI
North Country This Week
CANTON -- A settlement from a long standing land claim dispute between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and St. Lawrence County has taken another step forward after Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a bill that will allow the parties involved to finalize the agreement.
According to St. Lawrence County Attorney Steve Button, the land claim has been contested in federal court since 1982.
Now that Hochul has finally signed the legislation into law, parties on both sides can begin to finalize the process at the federal level.
St. Lawrence County originally signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the tribe in 2014, settling the claim for the county and the towns of Massena and Brasher.
Franklin County has also been negotiating with the tribe, along with the towns of Bombay and Fort Covington, to reach a similar agreement. That agreement was reached in June of this year, officials previously said.
Button said the memorandum of understanding with the tribe outlined what lands were part of the settlement and those that were not.
According to Button, the long contested Massena Square Mile and islands in the federal corridor like Barnhart Island were not part of the MOU in 2014.
"The lands in the agreement are all contiguous lands to those that are already tribal territory in St. Lawrence County. For Franklin County, it is a totally different matter and far more complicated," Button said.
State Senator Dan Stec, who has played a large role in the negotiations between the parties, said that working towards an agreement has been a top priority for him for years.
“The St. Regis Mohawk land claim was first filed in 1982 and negotiations between the tribe and local and state governments had been ongoing for 41 years,” said Stec. “One of the major sticking points in these negotiations was proper compensation between the state and St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, an issue which was resolved this past summer."
No specific figures for compensation for St. Lawrence County were listed by officials or whether compensation would be retroactive to the signing of the MOU in 2014.
“Working towards a deal has been one of my top priorities since becoming Senator and I was glad that I could work directly with the governor and Franklin and St. Lawrence County government to help find a solution that meets the needs of all parties,” he continued. “Now that this bill has been signed into law, I’m hopeful that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, state government and our local counties can achieve a final settlement to the land claim issue," Stec said.
With the state finally signing off on the agreement, all parties involved can progress to the next step.
Some details will still need to be worked out, including who would be responsible for road repair, fire districts and service, ambulatory services, financial compensation, taxation and other similar aspects, officials say.
According to Button, the Department of Justice and Bureau of Indian Affairs must review and sign off on the agreement before Congress can issue final approval.
Button said both the DOJ and BIA have worked closely with everyone throughout the negotiations, something that should hopefully speed the process along.
No official timeline has been given by officials as to when the final agreement would be approved by federal officials.