Judge allows 2nd gas station to open on Poospatuck reservation
By Mark Harrington
Heated competition for discount gasoline may be coming to the Poospatuck Indian Reservation in Mastic after a state Supreme Court judge last week lifted a temporary restraining order that has prevented a Smokes R Us station from opening next to Montauk Native Gas in a long-simmering land dispute.
Danielle Treadwell and her off-reservation backers must wait 10 days and produce a bond to cover costs for restoring the already developed Smokes R Us station and convenience store at the southeast corner of the reservation in the event that she ultimately loses a case brought by the Unkechaug Indian Nation. Some tribal members in court last week said they would work to stop the opening of Smokes R Us.
The nation brought the suit last year alleging Treadwell has no rights to the land, negating a 2013 land grant on property her cousin, Curtis Treadwell, was given the right to three years before.
The Smokes R Us gas station remained locked and closed Friday but Danielle Treadwell’s attorney, Linda Margolin, said it would open soon.
“We didn’t think there was any reason to keep it closed,” Margolin said. “We think the entire lawsuit is about trying to stifle competition on the reservation.”
Next door, the Montauk Native gas station, owned by Andre Hardy, Danielle Treadwell’s cousin, was doing its usual brisk business in discount gasoline, with the price of a gallon of regular gas at $2.39, the cheapest on Long Island, according to Gas Buddy, a search service.
Hardy operates the gas station in conjunction with a smoke shop and convenience store. Danielle Treadwell in 2015 filed a lawsuit against Hardy and Curtis Treadwell, charging that Montauk Native and its aboveground gas tanks were on property she claimed was hers.
“They want half the property and they’re saying my gas station is a nuisance,” Hardy said, denying the claim and adding that he believes Poospatuck Lane can support two stations. (A third smaller gas station operates elsewhere on the 55-acre reservation.) Hardy argued state Supreme Court Judge James Reilly erred when he went beyond the nation’s request to rescind Danielle Treadwell’s land claim given that the Unkechaugs are a state-recognized, sovereign tribe.
Mary Trent, a tribal council member and land trustee of the Unkechaug Nation, was in court last week with a group of tribal members to voice opposition to the new Smokes R Us station, which the nation argued in court papers did not properly bury fuel tanks and poses a health and environmental risk to the tribe. Trent was among trustees who ruled that Danielle Treadwell does not hold title to the land.
“She’s trying to say it’s in her name but it’s not,” she said, adding that Danielle Treadwell’s business partners are not tribal members. “Our land is for native blood-right members only,” she said.
Kevin Schlosser, an attorney at Meyer Suozzi in Garden City who is representing the tribe, said the tribe’s concerns remain despite the judge’s ruling.
Unkechaug Indian Nation members have a “significant concern as to the safety of this operation and the way this gas station was constructed” he said.
Schlosser called the Smokes R Us financial backers “trespassers,” noting that “they’ve been banned from the reservation and now they’re seeking to exploit the economic benefit when they are not blood right members.
Margolin said there was nothing that barred Danielle Treadwell from using outside backers.
“My client’s financial backers do not live on the reservation,” she noted. “I think it’s a smoke and mirrors issue, completely unrelated to whether or not the station is safe. We stand by the fact that the gas station is safe.”
But Curtis Treadwell said the case “is not about the safety of the gas station. It’s about who is the rightful owner of the land,” and he said the tribe decided clearly in 2010 that he was the owner. Beyond that, he said, the judge is “messing with the sovereign rights of a tribe. The whole tribe is up in arms right now.”
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