Hochul signs Franklin County land claim deal
MALONE — North Country state lawmakers are touting the signing of a bill by Gov. Kathy Hochul that is a major step forward for a Franklin County land claim issue between the county and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.
The bill was created after decades of negotiations, and it was agreed upon in early June.
State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) a former Franklin County Legislature Chairman, worked as an author to negotiate the bill as it was moved toward approval by the State Legislature at the end of session in June.
In addition to Jones, the bill was sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Buffalo) in the Senate. It was recently signed by Hochul.
“Although I’ve been involved in this for over a decade, most of the credit goes to the Franklin County legislators past and present, the county managers, the town officials, and the members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe who worked hard to come to this agreement,” Jones said.
“This was something I worked on as chair of the Franklin County Legislature, so I know firsthand how challenging it was to get to this point. After years of tedious negotiations, this bill is a major step forward and provides the framework for the Governor to further negotiate this decades long impasse.”
The Franklin County land claim issue first arose in the 1980s when the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe sued the state regarding land that was sold to the New York in the 1820s.
Since the land has been developed and under the jurisdiction of the county and local municipalities since it was sold centuries ago, both parties had to determine how to proceed in a way that was fair to everyone which includes covering tax revenue loss and paying for shared infrastructure, Jones said.
State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
Stec said he was an active participant in the final negotiations between the tribe, the governor’s office and Franklin and St. Lawrence County officials, working with all parties to bring the long-running stalemate to an end.
“The St. Regis Mohawk land claim was first filed in 1892 and negotiations between the tribe and local and state governments had been ongoing for 41 years,” Stec said.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
The Tribe was hopeful that the process will continue to make progress.
“This bill is part of the state’s process. Once all the settlement documents are finalized between all parties, this bill authorizes the Governor to sign the final negotiated settlement agreement. In addition, a final settlement will require federal approval via an act of Congress,” Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Beverly Cook said.
“We are not quite there, but are hopeful we will get there in the next couple months.”
Tribal Chief Michael Conners said there are still many steps to get to the final resolution, which is to get land back and increase Akwesasne’s land base for, “Our children and grandchildren.”
“It doesn’t really mean anything unless we can get all parties to agree, Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance said.
“We have a few items that we need to iron out with some of the parties, but we expect to get those done very soon. This has been a very long journey.”
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe said it was involved in reviewing the bill and although not perfect, “In the end, the Tribe is satisfied that it was intended to grant authority to the Governor only after the three parties, which consists of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, approves of and signs the settlement.”