It's not the casino, it's the fallout that worries us


October 17, 2006

In his recent column ("Fast-tracking on casinos? Oh, get a grip," Sept. 27), Barry Lewis mistakenly refers to the Natural Resources Defense Council as an "anti-casino" group.

NRDC does not have a position for or against casinos or gambling. But we are concerned that the proposed 766,000-square-foot, 4,200-gambling-position casino proposed for Monticello Raceway would worsen air quality, jam up traffic along the region's already congested roadways and fundamentally alter the quality of life in the Catskills.

The casino's promoters themselves predict its 4,800-space parking lot will fill up with 6.1 million visitors annually — 40 percent more visitors every year than Grand Canyon National Park.

What do we believe is that any proposed development of this size — whether it is a gambling casino or any other project — should follow basic principles of federal and state environmental review laws, which are intended to protect communities from just the sort of problems that could accompany this sprawling development.

In this instance, there is little question that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 requires a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Raceway casino because the federal government is seeking to approve a project that will "significantly" affect the environment.

In fact, the federal Department of Interior itself previously recognized this legal responsiblity when it called for completion of a full EIS for two other casino proposals in Sullivan County.

Why wouldn't anyone want a full exploration of the impact of this Las Vegas-style development? Even casino supporters would want to know whether there are ways to mitigate the effects that millions of new trips on Orange County's air — which is already in violation of federal air quality requirements — or how the region's overall environment would be affected if other casinos follow this one, especially given the rapid growth that has made Orange and Sullivan among the fastest-growing counties in the state in recent years.

Finally, we note that although we have an office in Washington, D.C., NRDC was founded right here in New York, and this is where our headquarters have been for more than 35 years. In that time, we have worked extensively with local and state groups to protect this region, including efforts to expand the Catskill Forest Preserve and safeguard Catskill-Delaware watersheds.

Richard Schrader is New York state legislative director for NRDC, which has headquarters in New York City.

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