The Shinnecock Indian Nation has formed a company and begun studies aimed toward opening two gas station-convenience stores on tribal property by next summer, including a rest-stop style facility near its billboard-monument project on Sunrise Highway, an official said this week.
The tribe has formed a company called Eastern Woods Petroleum to begin planning, investment and other work related to the stations, which will be owned by the tribe, said Bryan Polite, chairman of the tribal trustees.
“We started the company and are doing feasibility studies, one on Montauk Highway and one on Sunrise Highway at Westwoods,” said Polite, referring to the 79-acre parcel that extends from Peconic Bay south across Sunrise Highway. (The tribe also owns its 800-acre reservation south of Montauk Highway in Southampton).
The tribe earlier this year erected tall electronic billboards on the Sunrise Highway shoulder for the monuments, which it said provides a needed revenue stream for the nation. The project is the subject of a state court battle involving the Department of Transportation, objections by town officials and national media attention.
The state charges that the Shinnecocks failed to get proper approvals to work on a state right of way and that the 61-foot-tall structures are unsafe. Polite and others say the tribe has a right to use its land for economic development projects. In the past, the state has promised to work with the tribe to open a casino, but efforts have fizzled. The tribe recently passed gaming resolutions that could lead to working with the Seminole Tribe of Indians on a Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the metropolitan area. Polite has said that prospect is in the very early stages.
The gas station plans are on a shorter time schedule. Polite said the tribe is planning to open the Montauk Highway gas station before July, and the Sunrise Highway facility by September.
Tribal ownership of the facility will be a different model than that at the Poospatuck reservation by the Unkechaug Nation in Mastic, where three gas station-convenience stores operate, offering discount gasoline that benefits from the tribe’s exemption from state sales tax. Montauk Native Gas has been among the lowest-priced gasoline merchants in the state — until Fast Gas and Smokes R Us convenience store opened next store last month.
“Ours will be 100 percent owned by the tribe,” Polite said, noting trustees have previously voted to ban any individual members from opening a gas station.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he would support a gas station by the tribe on Sunrise Highway.
"I think that would be something that would be a big revenue generator for the Shinnecock Nation and have a positive community benefit" in the form of cheaper gas for locals and visitors, he said. "I would support that and think it's an excellent idea."
And while he hadn't heard of plans for one on Montauk Highway, he said, "That's their land and they can do as they wish. I'm surprised they haven't already done it. I wouldn't object to either location."
Schneiderman said "initial shock" about the billboards has subsided and "I'm not objecting" to them. The town has not filed any legal action, he noted.
Native tribes in New York tend to have the cheapest gas in the state, according to Gas Buddy, an online price survey. Signals, Seneca Hawk and Native Pride stations in Irving, Erie County, were selling gas for $2.08, $2.09 and $2.11 on Thursday, while Montauk Native had a gallon of regular at $2.18.
Polite was among other tribal leaders who met with state Attorney General Letitia James in recent weeks, a meeting that he said allowed the Shinnecock Nation to air issues such as the tribe's grievances with the Southampton School District contract, state impediments to tribal economic development and a path toward conversation before state litigation is filed.
"It was a frank conversation," Polite said of the meeting. "We appreciated the fact that she did that." A follow-up meeting is planned, he said.
Asked whether the state would object to a Shinnecock gas station on Sunrise Highway the way it has the billboards, an official at the Department of Transportation said, "We have not been notified by the Shinnecock Nation of any plans to erect a new facility on Sunrise Highway."
As for the state's objection to the billboards, which Schneiderman said had not resulted in any accidents, the official said, "We are awaiting a decision from the State Supreme Court judge handling the case."