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Schumer, Arcuri Have Criticized Previous Administration for its Backdoor Deal that Put 18 Acres of Federal Land into Trust Without Public Notice or Review

Legislators Will Demand that Under New Leadership, No Further Action is Taken on Remaining 490 Acres

Schumer, Arcuri: The Previous Administration's Actions Must Not Be Repeated - No More Midnight Deals that Give Away Public Land Without Notice, Input and Review

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Michael Arcuri today announced that they will be personally meeting with the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk, and senior executives from the Government Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Air Force (USAF) to demand that no further land be taken into trust at the Griffiss Air Force Base. On December 30, 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, under previous leadership, took 18 acres of land in Verona, NY, into trust for the Oneida Indian Nation of New York without notification or a public-comment process. Schumer and Arcuri will say that this process was flatly unacceptable and will seek assurances from the three key federal agencies that the back-door process will not be repeated.

Schumer and Arcuri will assert that they will oppose any proposal to take additional land at Griffiss Air Force Base into trust. They will say that it is clear from the controversy surrounding the Oneida Indian Nation’s pending land-into-trust proposal that taking land into trust without consulting the community is unacceptable.

The BIA, GSA and US Air Force all play key roles in the process of taking this land into trust. The BIA makes the ultimate decision on whether to attempt to take land into trust on behalf of Indian Nations; the US Air Force currently owns the land at the Griffiss base; and the GSA manages and maintains all federal government-owned land and buildings.

“At our upcoming meeting I intend to make clear to the all the major players that any decision to take further land into trust at Griffiss Air Force Base through the back-door process we went through in December is unacceptable,” said Schumer. “I am hopeful that the new leadership of the BIA, Air Force, and the GSA will understand our concerns and not repeat the previous administration’s mistakes. I am looking forward to conveying the serious concerns of the residents of Oneida and Madison counties.”

“The secret transfer of federal land into trust in December – without notice to local communities and while other trust acquisitions were delayed pending the outcome of litigation – was and is completely unacceptable,” Congressman Arcuri said, “ Our goal is to move forward and bring parties together, but in order to do so we must be able to rely on full disclosure and proper notice from the federal government – especially, when it involves placing land into trust. With these parties in the same room, we have the opportunity to say loud and clear that such a practice must not be repeated.”

On December 30, 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) took 18 acres of land in Verona, NY, into trust for Oneida Indian Nation of New York without notification or a public-comment process. The 18 acres of trust is part of a 513-acre parcel of land that was used as a testing site for Griffiss Air Force Base. Schumer immediately called the former Secretary of the Interior to express his outrage with the decision, and secured a commitment that he would be notified of any further attempts to take any of the other 513 acres at base into trust. In the upcoming meeting, Schumer and Arcuri intend to secure this pledge from the BIA, US Air Force, and the GSA’s new leadership, and also make clear that the lawmakers will fight any further decision to take land into trust without due process.

Schumer and Arcuri have fought to defer final action on the 13,000 acre land trust application from the Oneida Indian Nation in order to make sure the DOI addresses the concerns of the local communities affected by land trust decisions – including lack of clarity on applicability of federal regulations on environmental and development issues – and include crucial tax and financial provisions in their final decisions to ensure the counties’ and towns’ local economies don’t suffer. Schumer believes that the Nation, the State and local communities should negotiate a resolution that is acceptable to all parties, rather than having the BIA make a unilateral decision. Several court cases challenging the land trust decision are currently pending.

Schumer and Arcuri said that the DOI’s surprise December decision to take the 18 acres of land into trust flew in the face of an open, public process that would address community concerns. Schumer immediately addressed the issue with a personal call to then Secretary Kempthorne and a joint delegation letter urging the Secretary to make no further attempt to take the rest of the 513 acres of land and to immediately inform the delegation if the agency plans to take any further action. Schumer and Arcuri at the time pledged to fight any proposal to take further land into trust without community approval, and will reiterate that commitment to the new leadership at their meeting on Wednesday.

The General Services Administration is in charge of leasing and managing government land, and thus plays a key role in process of taking land into trust.
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