The Shinnecock Indian Nation recently started clearing land for a...

The Shinnecock Indian Nation recently started clearing land for a new gas station. Credit: Tom Lambui

The Shinnecock Indian Nation recently began clearing land to build a gas station and travel plaza off Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays despite an ongoing court battle between the nation and the state Department of Transportation over the nation's digital billboards. 

The development will be built on Shinnecock property, on the north side of the highway by the second controversial billboard the nation erected in 2021. Shinnecock leaders say the proposed complex, called Stony Shore Travel Plaza, will provide crucial economic support for the nation.

“It’s going to provide stability for our nation, for our organization to just function,” said Bianca Collins, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees.

The nation began researching the gas station in 2017 and the general council approved a referendum on Aug. 14, 2021, to authorize the project.

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of...

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees, in November 2023. Credit: Tom Lambui

Bryan Polite, the Council chairman, discussed the project with the Southampton Town Board at its Feb. 22 meeting and displayed renderings created by the Kentucky-based engineering firm Qk4. He said the nation did not need town approvals to clear the land.

The 11,000-square-foot travel plaza, on 10 acres to the north of the nation's Southampton reservation, will feature a drive-thru smoke shop, retail store and other amenities. The gas station will have about two dozen pumps, Polite said.

But the path for motorists to reach the plaza presents a conundrum.

The Department of Transportation has declined to review a permit application to build an off-ramp from Sunrise Highway to the plaza, citing ongoing litigation between the department and the federally recognized Shinnecock Nation over the digital billboards, according to Polite.

The nation refused a state order to cease construction of the second billboard in 2021. The Department of Transportation had cited lack of permits and safety concerns.

The nation has pivoted to a plan  to build an access road off Newtown Road farther north — a more winding, indirect path. Town officials expressed concern about whether the road could handle increased traffic.

The new road also would run parallel to a line of homes along Quail Run.

“Eventually you have to say enough is enough,” Polite said. “And when you have the authority to do something and you can help your people, you go ahead and do it.”

Stephen Canzoneri, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said “due to the agency’s existing litigation with the nation, we have no comment.”

Several residents raised concerns about the nation clearing land off the highway at the town's Feb. 15 meeting.

Hampton Bays resident Gail Murcott, 72, who lives off Newtown Road, said during the meeting that “nobody told us that there was going to be a massive clearing."

Councilwoman Cyndi McNamara said community support for the project depends on access from the highway as opposed to Newtown Road.

Polite urged community members and town officials to leverage the Department of Transportation to cooperate with the nation.

“We cannot wait around for New York State to sue us for five years when we can easily put a road that will have accessibility on the road that traverses our property that is 100% on the Shinnecock jurisdiction,” Polite said.

He added the nation prefers a highway off-ramp but building an access road off Newtown Road was the next step if that fell through.

McNamara questioned why the nation requires a state permit for the highway but not from the town for Newtown Road. 

Polite said building an off-ramp requires cutting into property that's not nation land whereas Newtown Road itself is on Shinnecock territory.

Ray D’Angelo, president of the Hampton Bays Civic Association, said in an email the group has no official position on the project. He said Polite plans to attend an upcoming meeting to discuss the development with civic members.

Collins told the town board Feb. 22 the project is not “just a gas station,” but a means to provide programs for children and elderly, to fix roads and upgrade clinics.

Polite estimated the facility could open in spring of 2025. He declined to comment on the cost. He said it’s the first “fully financed project” for Shinnecock and “wholly owned by the nation.”

At the town board meeting, Polite said he hopes the discussion could be a “template” for future interactions between the two boards.

One week earlier, the town board approved a resolution to designate Oct. 1 as "Shinnecock Heritage Day" in Southampton Town, an annual event "that highlights the history of the Shinnecock Nation and unique contributions to the town."

Councilman Michael Iasilli read a statement prior to the board's vote, saying the nation "has persevered over all of that historical injustice" it has faced. He called the legislation a "small step toward acknowledgment and mutual respect." 

"When we understand and appreciate each other's past, each other's struggle, we recognize that our history and our story is a shared history," he said.

"This recognition from our town has been a long time coming."

Shinnecock travel plaza

  • The Shinnecock Indian Nation plans to build an 11,000-square-foot travel plaza and gas station off Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays.

  • The Department of Transportation has declined to review a permit application to build an off-ramp from Sunrise Highway to the plaza, citing ongoing litigation. 
  • Nation leaders say the development is a pivotal economic generator for the Shinnecock Nation.
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