Watch CBS News

No Longer A Local Issue, New York State Takes On Fight Against Shinnecock Indian Nation's Electronic Billboards

HAMPTON BAYS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Memorial Day weekend brought the unveiling of the first of two huge electronic billboards in the Hamptons.

It's the work of the Shinnecock Indian tribe, intent on cashing in on tourist traffic, but a court order could get in the way.

Carolyn Gusoff has the latest update on a story you saw first on CBS2.

Some drivers are aghast at the giant ads now lighting up the gateway to the Hamptons: A 60-foot high, two-sided electronic billboard that flashes advertisements 24/7.

Shinnecock Indian Nation billboard
This electronic billboard greets drivers in the Hamptons, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. (Photo: CBSN New York)

"It's quite mind boggling and ruins the whole ambiance of the area," one driver told Gusoff.

But to others, the tower is perfectly placed on Shinnecock tribal land.

"I think this is good. Retaliation, I think it is," one person told Gusoff.

Within the tribe, there's pride, celebration and defiance.

"The status we have, the federal status gives us the right to govern ourselves," said Lance Gumbs of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees. "Just like Canada, Mexico, we are a sovereign nation."

Tribal leaders say what they call monuments - two are planned - create a giant revenue stream to improve the reservation's health and dental center, day care and crumbling roads, and create it's own police department.

For years, efforts to achieve self-sufficiency like a casino were shot down. This has a smaller footprint and adds no traffic.

MORESouthampton Residents Protest Shinnecock Indian Nation's Plan To Build Massive Billboards

As for the notion they created an eyesore?

"The hypocrisy of it is, they're building mega mansions on half acre parcels of land out here. You have a cell tower," Gumbs said. "All of these things are eyesores to us. For 400 yeas we've lived here and watched the desecration of land."

Local civic groups say they are sad it has come to this.

"Certainly the nation has the right to build on their property. We are not denying that, just hoping they would put something that would be in keeping with nature and what goes on out here," said Marie Hults, president of the Hampton Bays Civic Association.

Now this big dispute heads to court in a battle over Native American tribal rights. The New York State Department of Transportation issued a stop work order last week, and a judge a restraining order, citing a ban on advertising on state roads.

"I'm concerned mostly with safety, that people will be looking at billboards instead of traffic," said Southampton Supervisor Jay Scheiderman.  "I would hope that in the future when they consider economic development plans they at least consider some of the town's concerns."

There are 1.6 million billboards across the country," Gumbs said. "We are not breaking any law. We are doing what the Nation has the right and ability to do on our tribal land."

Civic leaders say they're trying to discuss a middle ground with the tribe, like turning the lights off at night. There's been grassroots talk of a boycott of advertisers.

The tribe argues it can't be sued. The case is in court on June 7th.

"The state has commenced an action against the Shinnecock Nation to halt the construction of billboards along State Route 27 (Sunrise Highway) and, following a hearing before the New York State Supreme Court, a temporary restraining order was issued. The state will continue to pursue whatever actions are necessary to fulfill its obligation to uphold state and federal law," said Glenn Bain of the New York State Department of Transportation.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.