By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO June 13, 2003 On Tuesday morning, an emergency meeting of the Sullivan County Legislatures Executive Committee was called to discuss several casino-related issues. Committee Chair Leni Binder turned the meeting over to County Attorney Ira Cohen, who detailed the matters.
The recent tribal vote by the St. Regis Mohawks, explained Cohen, resulted in the election of people who may not be in favor of the Memo of Understanding (MOU) New York State Governor George Pataki signed with the previous Mohawk government. But, he said, it was premature to speculate or worry. He stated the county should take a wait-and-see attitude.
Cohen then made mention of the proposed Cayuga Casino at Monticello Raceway. The parent company of the track, Empire Resorts, has a mitigation agreement with the Village of Monticello for $5 million per year. The county feels that is not enough and wants an agreement similar to the other two agreements they have with the St. Regis Mohawk tribe and the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe for their casinos at $15 million apiece.
There are many issues here and a lot of uncertainty, Cohen commented. We were contacted by the Eastern Regional Office of the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] to comment on the Cayuga application. We have made it clear that they lack a local service agreement with us, and we are uncomfortable with the villages agreement.
Cohen said that Binder will send a letter to the BIA about it. Meanwhile, the county, the village, and Empire have entered into a tolling agreement. This gives all parties a window to negotiate for ten days. This is needed, he said, because the timeline to get an agreement done is closing soon. If there is no agreement, the county will legally challenge the environmental review of the casinos application.
We are acting on our own behalf and all of the impacted communities, Cohen explained. The primary parties are the schools, the county, the towns, and the villages. We have to face reality. They did the environmental process seven years ago. They did a supplement process a few months ago, but that was only for traffic. We will talk to [the countys Indian gaming attorney] John Jacobson. It is possible we will challenge their findings.
Cohen went on to say that they had open friendly and amicable talks with Empire. Those talks will continue. However, he did say that, legally, they were under the gun.
Also, Binder reached out to all the school districts, saying they will face the greatest impact. Binder, through BOCES Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler, will set up a meeting with the Legislature and all the school boards. Together, they will go over the impacts.
Cohen also said he was going to suggest the Legislature hire a consultant to do a new study of casino impacts. The last study was done seven years ago, and the landscape in the county has changed.
With that, the committee went into an hour-plus executive session. The subject was expected to be brought up again at the regular Executive Committee meeting, held yesterday afternoon.
Also, the Village of Monticello Board was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss countersuing the county for $200,000 because village officials feel the county is blocking the casino process.
The results of that meeting and yesterdays county committee meeting will be published in Tuesdays issue.