The Shinnecock Indian Nation has formed Eastern Woods Petroleum with plans to build two gas stations on tribal land by next summer.
One would be a rest-stop-style facility near its billboard-style sign, dubbed by members of the Shinnecock as a monument, on the tribe’s Westwoods property along Sunrise Highway. The other is proposed along Montauk Highway, on the nation’s Shinnecock Neck territory.
The tribe formed the company to begin planning, investment, and other work related to the stations, which will be fully owned by the Shinnecock, Tribal Council Chairman Bryan Polite said. Trustees have previously voted to ban any individual members from opening a gas station.
It’s part of the Shinnecock Nation’s ongoing efforts to generate revenue. The 61-foot-tall billboards, one of which is operational, on the south side of the highway between exits 65 and 66 in Hampton Bays, could reportedly generate in the millions of dollars each year, the tribe previously said in a statement.
“Our community has suffered greatly over the last several decades due to a lack of resources,” a spokesperson for the Shinnecock Nation’s Council of Trustees said in a letter submitted to the town. “Now, we have the opportunity to generate revenue and have access to the same standard of living as our much wealthier neighbors.”
That project is still the subject of a state court battle involving the Department of Transportation, which cited a potential safety hazard should the billboard fall onto the state right-of-way during an emergency. The topic has drawn national attention, even being the subject of an episode of “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”
Town officials also objected, although Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has said publicly he supports the gas stations, adding that while it is the nation’s land and can do with it what it wishes, he thinks it’d not only be a benefit to the tribe, but to locals and visitors.
When asked whether the state would object to a Shinnecock gas station on Sunrise Highway, 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.”
Several of the cheapest New York gas stations are tribe-owned, according to the online price survey Gas Buddy. The Seneca’s Big Indian Smoke Shop ($2.07), Signals ($2.07), and Native Pride ($2.09) are at the top of the list. All are in Irving, Erie County.
“The project in question is going to allow our people to finally address the economic disparity that has plagued our community for generations,” the council said in a previous statement. “The Shinnecock Nation has been through many trials and tribulations throughout our history and we are still here. With the strength of our ancestors and the blessings of the creator, we will fight this injustice, continue our project, uphold our sovereign rights, and protect our territory.”
The state had previously promised to work with the tribe to open a casino. This never came to fruition. In August, votes on two gaming resolutions were passed to authorize Shinnecock leaders to draft a new gaming ordinance to submit to the National Indian Gaming Commission, and to explore Long Island gaming proposals with developers including the Seminole Tribe of Florida that owns the Hard Rock International and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino brand.
Polite had said the plans are in the “very, very early stages.”
New York State has a moratorium on new commercial casinos until 2023. The freeze was part of a voter-approved plan in 2013.