Yesterday's casino report not good enough for today

From the Times Herald Record

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.

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