By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO September 16, 2003 On Thursday, September 11, the Sullivan County Legislatures Executive Committee discussed the gaming issue. The talk was led by Committee Chair Leni Binder and County Attorney Ira Cohen.
Binder announced that members of the Catskill Casino Coalition went to Washington, D.C. recently to meet with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The BIA told the officials that, since the tribes having to go through a full environmental study, no construction of casinos could begin until at least late 2004 or spring 2005. The Coalition is reportedly trying to help speed up that timetable.
Cohen then discussed the countys ongoing negotiations with the Cayuga Indian Nation, which is looking to build a casino at Monticello Raceway with Empire Resorts. Cohen stated that the talks will resume the first week in October.
Next the committee focused on two resolutions involving the countys gaming attorneys.
The first modified an earlier resolution for a contract with Environmental Attorney Dan Ruzow. The original resolution called for an expenditure of up to $60,000. The new resolution put a cap of $25,000 on it. Cohen stated that Ruzow had submitted a bill for $13,000 already.
The other resolution extended the contract of Indian Gaming Attorney John Jacobson, which is also capped at $25,000.
These two actions and the fact that the county hired George Bucci to write the casino study caused one legislator to question what the plans are.
John has done a good job, District 1 Legislator Chris Cunningham commented. What is the status? Why are we spending this money if it is years away? Where are we going? I feel uneasy.
This is a broad discussion, Cohen countered. In the long run, this will make the process shorter and less likely for protracted litigation. If a casino gets approved in February or March and we have good indication it might we need to know where we are going.
Lawmakers promised a separate meeting would be called to discuss those issues, but it was not announced when it would be held.
Both resolutions passed the committee. It must still pass the full Legislature at its monthly meeting on Thursday, September 18.
In related Indian gaming news, Cohen announced in a press release Thursday that the lawsuit filed by the Western Mohegan Tribe and Nation against Sullivan County, New York State Governor George Pataki, the State of New York, and several other counties was voluntarily dropped by the tribe.
The tribe is not recognized by either New York State or the federal government. The tribe sued for, among other things, all of Sullivan County and several other lands, asking that they be turned over to them and claim them as their ancestral home.
The tribe is still suing for several properties in the county: Lake Superior State Park, Mongaup Valley State Wildlife Management Area, Neversink River State Unique Area, Bashakill State Wildlife Management Area, and Wurtsboro Ridge State Open Space. They are also seeking properties in Westchester, Greene, Columbia, Dutchess, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Rensselaer, and Albany counties.
They are expected to continue to fight the tribe until the entire claim is dismissed.