Albany – A group of community and conservation organizations went to court today challenging a recent federal approval for a Native American casino development proposed for Monticello Raceway until federal officials complete a comprehensive assessment of the congestion, sprawl, pollution and other community impacts that would result.
“Sullivan County citizens deserve a complete examination of how this massive casino development will affect their daily lives,” said Richard Schrader, New York legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Some folks down in Washington may want to cut the corners, but the Catskills communities deserve better. They are entitled to protection and fairness by law.”
The Sullivan County Farm Bureau, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Orange Environment, Inc., say the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs dodged its legal responsibility to protect Catskill residents by failing to require a full environmental impact evaluation of the proposed Las Vegas-style gaming development.
They are asking a judge to stop development plans from moving forward until full measure can be taken of the impact on nearby communities and their environment.
Plans for the half-billion-dollar facility, to be built by Empire Resorts, Inc. and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, include 766,000 square feet of floor area – equivalent to roughly 13 football fields -- 4,200 casino gambling positions, a 600-seat theater, and a parking lot for 4,800 cars and buses. Nearly six million visitors a year are projected – 40 percent more than visit Grand Canyon National Park each year.
“In order to protect the agricultural industry, which is so important to the character and identity of the Catskills, we need an environmental review that addresses very basic concerns about air pollution, traffic jams, and quality of life issues that will affect the community” said Wes Gillingham of the Sullivan County Farm Bureau. “It is not asking too much; it is simply asking that government obey the law.”
The National Environmental Policy Act requires a full environmental impact statement for all developments of the size and scope of the proposed Monticello Raceway casino. But instead the BIA accepted a far less comprehensive review called an environmental assessment.
The groups say BIA is shirking not only the law, but also precedent. The BIA previously required full environmental impact statements for similar Catskill casino schemes, including an earlier proposal by the St. Regis Tribe itself to build at the nearby Kutsher’s Sports Camp.
Monday, February 5, 2007
Sullivan County Government Center
(Legislative Chamber -- Second Floor)
100 North Street
Monticello, New York
Monticello, NY -- Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)
and local officials will hold a press conference on Monday, February 5, 2007 at 12:00 noon in the legislative chamber (second floor) of the Sullivan County Government Center located at 100 North Street in Monticello, New York to unveil new federal legislation he will be introducing that day in Congress to stop the New York Regional Interconnection, Inc. (NYRI) power line proposal from moving forward.
Hinchey strongly opposes the NYRI proposal to construct a high voltage direct current (HVDC) electric transmission line from Oneida County to Orange County, New York. The congressman believes the proposed project threatens the federally-protected Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and would have serious adverse impacts on local communities along the proposed routes.
Among those joining Hinchey at the press conference will be: Christopher Cunningham, Sullivan County Legislative Chairman/Communities Against Regional Interconnect (CARI); Troy Bystrom, Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition (UDPC); Nina Guenste, SayNo2NYRI; and William Douglass, Upper Delaware Council (UDC).
Office of Congressman Maurice Hinchey
City Hall, Third Floor
16 James Street
Middletown, NY 10940
(845) 342-2070 (fax)
Want to know how to use the law to combat polluters and overdevelopment? Confused about the legalities of protesting? Then this is the forum for you. Here's where we share legal resources and tactics for protecting the Catskills. Won't you join us?
November 07, 2006
If "study time is over," the St. Regis Mohawk casino proposal at Monticello Raceway receives a failing grade. Adults recognize that their responsibilities continue after electing others to do their bidding.
Proper deliberation isn't selective. When those holding a public position deliberate improperly, or fail to require accountability on community matters, they've let the community down. So when county officials and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are presented with documentation to this effect and continue this same pattern of behavior, that's "fast-tracking" and precisely what is occurring with this casino proposal.
A concern doesn't become irrelevant because it's inconvenient to consider, and mistaking prior reports and discussion, with proper context and analysis for today, is just that, a mistake.
The farmer Wes Jackson reminds us, "Out of context, the best minds do the worst damage." But this is generality. Let's talk specifics — it's not just about the harm this casino brings.
Law enforcement is a first line of defense for ensuring community safety and quality of life.
At the Sept. 25 Sullivan County Charter Committee meeting, County District Attorney Steve Lungen shared his view of the losing financial and social proposition that even a single casino in the county represents. He reminded us that county officials denied county law enforcement a seat at the planning table.
Barry Lewis is right when he says in his column that BIA has seen and heard enough about gambling in the Catskills. But its desire to proceed shouldn't become a community liability.
Most reasonable people would agree — the DA's office provides an irreplaceable perspective, regardless of how well-informed local boards, county legislators, the BIA or consultants believe themselves to be.
Should study time really be over?
Lewis' implication that we're really dealing with a single casino also strains credibility. Granting of the tribe's request to take land into federal-trust status would establish separate commercial and governmental jurisdictions — regardless of provisions in a state compact. To my knowledge, this hasn't occurred before in New York state. The BIA has approached this request as an isolated event, even with other applications pending. I'm not aware of any closed-door policy once precedence is established. Creating a mosaic of sovereignty in New York could have important effects on communities and commerce. I need help locating where this is discussed in BIA's Environmental Assessment for this project. I can't find it.
Is this proper context?
Two hard copies of this assessment were made available for the entire county in restricted access facilities — conflicting with work schedules for many residents. The norm for other federal agencies within BIA's own U.S. Department of Interior (and also within the U.S. Department of Agriculture) is to provide access through multiple media, via the Internet and proactively soliciting requests for access on CD and in some cases hard copy.
In the environmental assessment for this project, the BIA supports its case for Sullivan County's need for this casino using socioeconomic data only through 2000, knowing well that the county has changed substantially since 2001, and that recent information is readily available.
It rules out feasibility for a retail facility alternative at the raceway because of traffic concerns, while disregarding traffic concerns when it's convenient to do so — concerns submitted by credentialed engineers stating the unresolved impacts that just this single casino will bring.
These same concerns over public access and inappropriate use of old information were documented to the same BIA and the same county legislature on behalf of the same tribe's proposal at Kutsher's in 2004.
The BIA's Responsiveness Summary, accepted by the Town Board for that project on Sept. 30, 2004, refused to acknowledge legitimate concerns raised over increased accident rates associated with millions of additional vehicle trips; it refused to address concerns raised with a cap on the waiver of sovereign immunity. Years of prior discussion won't change this.
This is not behavior deserving of public confidence.
The list goes on, allotted word count does not.
Dave Colavito of Rock Hill is a member of Casino-Free Sullivan County.
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.