Press-Republican

November 2, 2012

Ganienkeh property up for tax auction

By SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican

---- — ALTONA — For the first time, Clinton County has put Ganienkeh property up for tax auction.

The Mohawk community is long overdue to pay taxes on the parcels, according to Clinton County Treasurer Joseph Giroux.

The property is not taxable, Mohawk leadership says.

And as for the coming auction, “Ganienkeh land is not for sale,” Mohawk spokesman Thomas Delaronde told the Press-Republican by phone Thursday afternoon.

INCLUDES GOLF COURSE

The auction details appeared Thursday on the website nysauctions.com, promoting the online-only sale set to begin at 9 a.m. Nov. 30 with 11 auction lots up for bid. They total more than 1,745-plus acres of land, all located in Altona and the Northern Adirondack Central School District. 

The properties include Ganienkeh Golf Course at 2927 Rand Hill Road, valued at $1,347,300; a dairy farm at 1037-1065 Alder Bend Road, assessed at $297,700; and a home at 100 Lash Road, valued at $99,000.

The land described on the site as “previously owned by the Turtle Island Trust, an entity believed to be controlled by the Ganienkeh people of Altona” also includes parcels of abandoned agricultural land on Lash, Rabideau and Devil’s Den roads; vacant farmland on Lash Road and Military Turnpike; and a vacant rural plot on Devil’s Den. 

Preview information on the website says inspection of the properties is available as “drive by only.”

The lands are near but not part of the expanse of property called home by the Ganienkeh Mohawk community since 1977 — state land that was leased to Turtle Island Trust after a three-year siege between the Mohawks and state in Moss Lake.

Bidding is to start Nov. 30.

COUNTY BURDEN

For five years, according to Clinton County Treasurer Joe Giroux, the Governor’s Office has attempted to reach some kind of resolution to the issue with Ganienkeh.

He took part in several meetings at the Governor’s Office in Albany, under four different governors. Mohawk leadership was present at some of those, he said.

Altona Town Supervisor Larry Ross said he was at the session there when the state put its foot down.

Officials told the Mohawks, he said, “100 percent” they had to pay taxes on the properties that they had been buying up around the original leased land.

Ross agreed with that.

When taxes aren’t paid, eventually Clinton County foots the bill, so Altona doesn’t lose out. Instead, though, the supervisor said, “the whole county has to share” the burden of the cost.

Ross does sympathize some with the Mohawks, however.

The Governor’s Office should have acted back when the land was first purchased, he said.

Since then, the Mohawks “have built a lot of things, invested a lot of money.”

Giroux looks at it another way.

For example, he said, why should the Ganienkeh Golf Course have the advantage of paying no tax when every other one in Clinton County does? 

RUMORS FLY

Giroux said Ganienkeh was made aware of the coming tax auction.

“They are not happy,” he said. “We’re trying to keep (the situation) as diffused as we can.”

The auction notice raised fears among the Mohawks that there would be immediate evictions, he added. 

That is not going to happen, he said.

“All we’re trying to do is follow the foreclosure process.”

Rumors abounded Thursday that Ganienkeh had closed or intended to shut down roads at points around the territory.

“The roads are open,” Delaronde said shortly after 2:30 p.m. “There’s no worry.

“People are spreading all these rumors.”

Ross said the appearance of a bulldozer and other heavy equipment along roadsides in several locations, including Ganienkeh’s gas station on Devil’s Den Road and a spot on Military Turnpike, likely fueled the speculation.

“They have a right to do that stuff,” he said of the equipment movement. “They could be doing construction work, as far as I know.”

LONG PROCESS

Clinton County Sheriff David Favro had been made aware the pending auction would be posted on the website. It would be his department that would serve eviction notices, he said, but a lot would have to happen before that task would be undertaken.

First, he said, would have to come “a legitimate sale, legitimate purchase, legitimate filing with a local court for a warrant of eviction and an order of eviction.”

Favro was aware of the flurry of rumors circulating Thursday; none proved more than that, he said, and his department had no cause to take any kind of action.

”Rumors, themselves, can create a civil unrest,” the sheriff added.

DISCLOSURE NOTICE

Anxiety over what steps Ganenkieh might take is linked to past history that to some doesn’t seem all that long ago.

On March 30, 1990, a Vermont National Guard helicopter on a medical mission was brought down by gunfire as it flew over the Mohawk lands in Altona; a physician aboard was shot and wounded. After an 11-day standoff, Ganienkeh allowed police on the property for a brief investigation.

The Mohawks have worked collaboratively with local government, however, during times of flooding, to help lower the level of Miner Lake when it threatened to breach the dam there. 

But the auction description includes a plainly worded “Notice of Disclosure.”

“Bidders should be aware of the historical events that have occurred surrounding the Ganienkeh people,” it says, going on to describe the Moss Lake siege and including a link to a New York Times article that covers the helicopter shooting. 

Giroux said many notices had been sent to Ganienkeh about the land in arrears. A judge signed an order of foreclosure a few years ago, he said, but the county held off with proceedings in hopes the state and Mohawks could come to some kind of resolution.

“Even a few days ago, (the Governor’s Office) was still trying to bring the parties together,” he said.

The Governor’s Office didn’t return a call for comment Thursday.

Email Suzanne Moore: smoore@pressrepublican.com