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Seneca Nation plans its energy future

SALAMANCA, N.Y. - Economic growth cannot properly take place without easily accessible and abundant energy. Toward that end, the Seneca Nation of Indians hopes to put together a forward-sighted energy plan for its three Western New York territories.

"This is a holistic approach to developing a strategic long-range plan," said Gina Paradis, a business analyst with the tribe's Community Development and Planning Department.

The Seneca Nation has a long history of energy development, Paradis told Indian Country Today and is now looking to address issues related to energy management, conservation and development while devising an overall strategic energy plan.

The plan's first phase begins with a pair of meetings, open to both tribal members and the general public, at which public comment will be welcome and encouraged. The energy meetings will be held Aug. 25 at the Allegany Reservation and Aug. 26 at the Cattaraugus Reservation.

"This is the first step in the process," Paradis explained. "The goal for our long-range plan is certainly going to be energy self-sufficiency. But [now we want] to define our goals and objectives and our immediate priorities to pave the way for energy development in the future, which would include both renewable and nonrenewable sources."

The Tribal Council and the Community Development and Planning Department will consider all input in defining the Nation's energy-related objectives and priorities over the long term, assessing its base of available resource bases, and determining conservation strategies.

"Eventually, we'll get to the point where we're actually looking at which renewable resources are the most feasible for us to develop and give us the best return on our investment," Paradis said.

This effort represents the Senecas' first-ever strategic and tactical energy study to allow for economic development capacity building and comprehensive energy resource coverage for residents of the Seneca Territories. Completion of the plan is expected by year-end.

The Seneca Nation has approximately 7,300 members and three reservations. Last New Year's Eve, the tribe opened its first casino, the Seneca-Niagara in downtown Niagara Falls. Under the terms of their October 2002 compact, the Senecas may open two more gaming establishments. The tribe wanted to site its second casino at the Buffalo Convention Center, but Erie County officials nixed the idea.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has reversed its earlier position, offering to sell a parcel of waterfront land in Buffalo for a casino. On Aug. 10, tribal officials said they remain committed to an unspecified site in suburban Cheektowaga.

The tribe may eventually place its third authorized casino at either Allegany or Cattaraugus.