Senecas Plan to Evict? Snyder Beach Residents ; Litigation over Property Rights Expected

Article excerpt

The Seneca Nation announced plans Friday to evict about 80 families of "illegal occupants" living in summer cottages along the Snyder Beach area of Lake Erie, triggering a major battle over property rights.

Seneca Nation officials issued a strongly worded statement, saying that the non-Senecas who live in Snyder Beach have been given until Nov. 8 to vacate the area.

But Snyder Beach residents such as William McNamara, 81, say their families have been there for decades, and that they pay for annual leases with a Seneca businessman who owns the land.

"I built this house. My family has been here 55 years," said McNamara, a retired Buffalo firefighter. "We built this ourselves. For a lot of us who live here, it's been a lot of hard work, blood and memories. My neighbor is 92 years old, and he says, ?I'll be damned if I'm going to turn my property over to the Indians.'?" His son, David McNamara, is a partner in the Buffalo law firm of Phillips Lytle. He called the Senecas' action "totally unjustified."

"Many of these people have been here for 30 or 40 years or more and they aren't going to leave easily. We will fight this in the courts or any other venue where we have to fight it."

"It would be totally unfair to classify these cottage residents as squatters," David McNamara said. "These are people who had a legal and binding relationship with the owner of the property, who is a Seneca."

Litigation over Snyder Beach ? about 300 acres of prime waterfront property that includes many lovely and well-maintained summer cottages built by non-Senecas ? appears to be a certainty.

Several residents told The Buffalo News that they have talked to a top Buffalo law firm about representing them.

The Senecas, meanwhile, seem just as determined.

"This is a long-standing issue of unlawful occupation and is key for the Seneca Nation," said Robert Odawi Porter, Seneca president.

"The Cattaraugus Territory is for Senecas, and removing the unlawful occupants will make more land available for Senecas. It is quite clearly an illegal occupation, even if that may surprise some of the current residents and the general public."

Snyder Beach, which is south of Evangola State Park and north of the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek, has a Town of Brant mailing address. But Brant officials say they do not collect property taxes on Snyder Beach because it is part of the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Territory.

According to the Senecas, the non-Senecas who live at Snyder Beach own their buildings, but do not own the land they stand on.

Several Snyder Beach residents told The News they make annual lease payments to a Seneca businessman, John Metzger, identified as the landowner of all the property at Seneca Beach.

Metzger told The News he does own the property and confirmed he has lease agreements with cottage owners. He said he has a business partner, Daniel Maybee, who is related to him and is also a Seneca.

The beach is named after his late grandfather, John L. Snyder, and his family has owned the property since 1917, Metzger said. He told a reporter that this is the seventh time the Seneca Nation has threatened to evict people from the property, but said this is the first time actual eviction notices have been sent.

Metzger said there are 170 properties at Snyder Beach ? far more than the 80 mentioned by the Senecas ? and he said most of those 170 are occupied by non-Senecas. He said he found the Senecas' plan to remove non-Senecas from the property "repulsive."

"It verges on a cleansing operation, in my opinion," said Metzger, referring to repeated efforts of the Senecas to challenge his ownership of the land.

"When you're dealing with an anarchy, there really aren't a lot of rules that you can apply," he added.

There are other beach areas on Seneca land that include property leased to non-Seneca cottage owners, Metzger said, adding that he is unaware of any efforts by Seneca leaders to evict those people. …