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U.S. Supreme Court case could impact Cayuga Nation and Cayuga County municipalities

Cayuga County, the village of Union Springs, the town of Springport and members of the Cayuga Nation have filed friend of the court briefs in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving land rights and nation sovereignty. 

Though the case takes place in Washington state, the Supreme Court's ruling could affect Indian nation territories and local municipalities across the country. It could also impact litigation involving Union Springs and Cayuga Nation members regarding Lakeside Entertainment, a nation-owned gambling facility on Cayuga Street in the village.

The case is the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Sharline Lundgren and Ray Lundgren. In 2013, according to court records, the tribe purchased nearly 40 acres of its ancestral land in the state of Washington. The Lundgrens owned adjacent land. In 2015, the couple brought forth a quiet title action arguing that they had owned a portion of the land by adverse possession prior to the tribe's purchase of the land. 

Washington Supreme Court allowed the quiet title action to proceed, citing the in rem nature, which according to Cornell Law School's online database, means "jurisdiction is based on the location of the property and enforcement follows property rather than the person." The tribe argued that if the court ruled in the Lundgrens' favor, "the decision would undermine the autonomy, territorial integrity, and resources of Indian tribes throughout the nation."

The court ruled 5-4 in the Lundgrens' favor. The tribe petitioned for a higher court, in effect the U.S. Supreme Court, to review the state supreme court's ruling. It said this exception to tribal sovereignty had not been used before and cited several court cases where in rem matters had been dismissed. The tribe's petition was granted on Dec. 7, 2017.

On Jan. 29, members of the Cayuga Nation under Federal Representative Clint Halftown, in partnership with the Seneca Nation of Indians, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Cherokee Nation and Pueblo of Pojaque, filed a friend of the court brief for the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe. 

"Each amicus (friend) regularly defends against incursions on its sovereignty by state and local governments and private parties, including with respect to property held by the Tribe," the brief read. "Amici (friends) thus have strong interests in defending tribal sovereign immunity in in rem actions."

The brief also references litigation between Seneca County and the Cayuga Nation regarding real property taxes and foreclosure proceedings. Seneca County filed its own friend of the court brief in favor of the Lundgrens. The village of Union Springs, the town of Springport and Cayuga County did so, too, on Feb. 28, the day after the Cayuga County Legislature voted to support the town and village in its brief. 

Their brief references Lakeside Entertainment, property which Halftown and nation members acquired through an open-market transaction, and the Cayugas subsequent refusal to pay real property taxes and abide by zoning and land ordinances. The village has an ordinance that prohibits gaming. The Cayugas had filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the village to keep it from enforcing the local law. The case had been tossed due to a leadership dispute among the Cayugas, but is back on the table before U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd. 

"The CIN's (Cayuga Indian Nation) wrongful and aggressive assertion of sovereignty over its fee lands creates jurisdictional conflicts and confusion beyond that described above," the brief reads after discussing the gambling facility. "Local law enforcement officers have delayed responding, or not responded at all, to emergencies reported at the CIN's property because the Nation claims absolute sovereign authority over the lands. The CIN's jurisdictional claims also make it difficult for local fire services to plan responses to emergencies on those lands."

There's an added concern, the municipalities argue, over the use of eminent domain. Should a power line or right-of-way need to be installed, they fear running into more litigation with the Cayugas. Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, the local municipalities believe it would "improperly anoint" the tribe and all others "super sovereigns," giving them more immunity than states and foreign states. 

"The divestiture of local government jurisdiction that is occurring piecemeal in the village of Union Springs and elsewhere in central New York will be repeated across the country if Indian tribes are free to buy land anywhere, refuse to pay taxes, and—by asserting sovereign immunity from suit—face no consequence," the brief added.

Attorney Joseph Heath represents a separate group of Cayuga Nation members, who are contesting the federal government's recognition of Halftown and his council as the Cayugas' leaders. 

"Our only statement would be that traditional Haudenosaunee (a confederacy of which the Cayugas are a part) teachings and instructions prohibit gambling," he wrote in an email to The Citizen. "That is why no traditional Haudenosaunee Nation has a casino."

The matter is set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 21.

Heavy snow slams Cayuga County, central New York

Winter returned in a big way to Cayuga County Friday after a taste of spring earlier in the week. 

A winter storm warning remained in effect for all of central New York until 1 a.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Southern Cayuga County was expected to get an estimated 8 to 12 inches of snowfall between Thursday evening and early Saturday morning. As of 7 a.m. Friday, 7 inches had already fallen, according to the National Weather Service. 

Heavy, wet snow and strong, gusty winds as high as 45 mph throughout the day made travel difficult and could result in downed trees and power lines. The Cayuga County Sheriff's Office issued a travel ban Friday morning. All roads in the county were closed "except for essential travel." That ban was lifted around 2:20 p.m. The sheriff still advised drivers to use caution. The sheriff's office did not indicate when the ban would be lifted. 

Over in Onondaga County, the County Executive's office issues a travel advisory, warning motorists that hazardous driving conditions may exist. 

Many area schools, government agencies and businesses closed Friday due to the weather. 

The National Weather Service advised those who needed travel to keep a flashlight and food and water in their vehicles in case of an emergency. Travelers can hear the latest road conditions by calling 511.

Gallery: March comes in like a lion with a snow storm in Auburn

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

A cyclist makes his way along Genesee Street in Auburn during the winter storm Friday.

Winter festival warms up downtown Auburn

AUBURN — Chili, chowders and local spirits brightened an otherwise dreary snow day for those who braved the cold to attend the seventh annual IGNITE the Winter Festival Friday evening.

Though previous years saw the festival held in downtown Auburn, chair members of IGNITE!, a group of young professionals within a program of the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce, moved the event indoors this time around to the Hilton Garden Inn.

“It just made so much more sense,” said IGNITE vice-chair, Kierstyn Zaykoski. “It just gets too cold holding it outside, and by moving it indoors everything is together. In previous years the children’s activities were indoors at the Genesee Mall while everything else was outside. This just makes it so much nicer for families.”

The festival, which included live performances by local musicians, food and refreshments, local wine and beer tasting and children’s activities such as face painting, caricature drawings and crafts, is the largest fundraiser of the year for the group.

But the biggest draw for many each year is the chili/chowder cook-off. For the cost of a dollar patrons can sample the wintertime comfort food such as Santa Fe Chicken prepared by Parker’s Grill or Uncle Abners Homestyle Chili prepared by the Auburn Doubledays and other recipes from local businesses.

Each creative recipe vied for the grand prize of cash and the bragging rights to the title of best of the region for a year.

Funds from the event allow its members of young professionals to support various initiatives and programs that will unite and promote local business.

“As a diverse range of young professionals we really want to show up in our community,” Zaykoski said. “It’s our duty to show that we have what it takes to become the future leaders of our community.”

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Auburn Schine Theater owners offering $5K for its old sign

The prospective owner of the Auburn Schine Theater is turning to the public to help with one part of the theater's restoration.

Schines Theater LLC is offering $5,000 for the return of the 1938 art deco theater's blade sign. The theater's current owner, the Cayuga County Arts Council, announced the search to The Citizen.

The 60-foot sign, which said "AUBURN SCHINES" in vertically arranged letters, was removed in 1970.

Todd Gaglianese, the Schine's former building manager, said the sign was removed because it was rusty and fell into disrepair. He recalled seeing it lying on its side in the theater in 1980, the year it became Charlie's Night Club. At the time, the Schine was owned by Pentagon Realty, a corporation with late Auburn attorney John Pettigrass as its principal, according to The Citizen archives.

"The Pettigrass family had possession of the upright blade last," Gaglianese said in an email.

Gaglianese claims the sign was later moved to the old Wegman Piano Co. factory on Logan Street. He also recalled seeing the sign lying on its side outside the factory, allowing rain to further damage it. But the sign was not at the factory as of 2005, when the Bartolotta family bought it to turn into Logan Park Lofts, Joseph Bartolotta said.

However, Pettigrass' son, Mike, said he can't recall seeing the sign at the Schine or the piano factory. He worked at the theater on almost a daily basis during the late '70s and early '80s, he said, and "it would stick out in your mind if there was a 60-foot-long sign."

"If anyone in our family knew where it was, we'd love to donate it," Mike said. "I'd love to see that theater restored. It was an incredible statement for the city of Auburn."

Regardless of the sign's whereabouts, Schines Theater LLC seeks to return it to 16 South St. The LLC is owned by Bowers Development, of Syracuse, which is awaiting approval from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to take ownership of the theater from the arts council. Bowers recently oversaw removal of the theater's asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Restoring or replicating the sign is part of Bowers' plan to restore the Schine. The developer estimates the project will cost $6 million and conclude by October 2019.

Gallery: Inside the Auburn Schine Theater after asbestos removal