By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO April 6, 2004 The draft environmental assessment of a proposed casino at the Monticello Raceway has been submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs by Empire Resorts, the operators of Mighty M Gaming at Monticello Raceway.
Among the highlights of the report, available only through the Village of Monticello Clerks office, is a detailed traffic study and a report on the sites wildlife and vegetation.
In the environmental assessment completed by Empire Resorts, the corporation says that fair to good wildlife habitat exists only in the northern, undeveloped section of the property.
This section includes an upland forest, a disturbed flat field area, and a freshwater wetlands. There are approximately three dozen types of trees, shrubs, and plants listed. According to the document, hemlock trees are prevalent. The majority of the "overstory trees are 50 to 60 feet tall." Other trees include maple, oak, pine, birch and fern.
The area provides habitat for woodland and field species of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Some of the birds include owls, hawks, thrashers and others. Some of the mammals in this section include rabbits, foxes, weasels, opossums, raccoons, deer and woodchucks.
It is agreed by officials that this area is environmentally sensitive. They say there is a potential for erosion on the steep slope if stormwater from on-site development is not properly controlled. However, officials provided a detailed stormwater prevention plan.
According to a letter from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in the assessment, there are no records of any federally listed or proposed endangered or threatened species in the study area. There are also no critical habitats in the projects impact area.
However, the USFWS writes that "this response does not preclude additional service comments under other legislation." The letter goes on to state that if there are wetlands present, they will have to be marked and approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The corporations assessment reads that there are no state-mapped protected wetlands on the site. It goes on to state that "the nearest such wetland is about 1,000 feet west of the site and west of Kaufman Road."
Furthermore, "any development or disturbance within a state-designated wetland or within its 100-foot buffer zone requires approval of permit from NYSDEC. The Raceway property is well beyond this buffer zone."
State regulations, it says, apply to wetlands that have been mapped and identified as having an area of 12.4 acres or greater. However, wetlands of all sizes are subject to regulation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Less than four acres along the northerly boundary meet the criteria for delineating wetlands subject to federal regulation. But, says Empire Resorts in the assessment, "this area is well beyond the site area which will be developed or disturbed for development.
Company officials could not confirm if the wetlands were ever officially marked or approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Nathaniel Parrish of Parrish, Weiner and Mafia Inc., the principle consulting firm which prepared the environmental impact statement, believes their marking of wetlands does not require approval from the Army Corps of Engineers due to its distance from the development.
Betty Ketcham of the New York National Heritage Program wrote in a letter seven weeks ago that her department has "no records of known occurrences of rare or state-listed animals or plants" or other significant habits in or near the immediate vicinity of the site.
Their letter also provided a disclaimer: This information should not be substituted for on-site surveys that may be required for environmental assessment. They also noted that the project may require additional review or permits for regulated areas or activities such as wetlands.
According to the document, the former Catskill Development LLC (now Empire Resorts) entered into a cooperation agreement with the Village of Monticello in 1997 and 1998, in which the developers agreed to make "mitigation improvements subject to such approvals as may be required from other governmental entities."
The following are some of the mitigation proposals included in the 1998 Federal Environmental Impact Statement traffic study which were adopted by Empire Resorts in their environmental assessment.
Route 17B, Jefferson Street and the Route 17 exit ramp:
- Widen the southbound approach off the bridge to provide two through lanes plus an exclusive left turn lane.
- Revise the traffic signal operation to a three-phase operation.
- Jefferson Street approach should be reconstructed to provide a clear right turn lane which can be controlled by a signal.
- Widen an additional 250-foot lane plus a transition section between the bridge and Jefferson Street on the west side of the road.
Route 17B and West Broadway:
- This intersection will require signalization once the casino is opened.
- In addition to two through lanes on Route 17B, new turning lanes will be required for the southbound left turn and the northbound right turn off of Route 17B.
- A second lane will also be required on the West Broadway approach to provide separate left and right turn lanes.
Route 17B and Kaufman Road:
- This intersection will require signalization.
- It is desirable that the Kaufman Road approach be widened to provide separate left and right turn lanes.
Route 17B and Main Casino Access Driveway:
- This new intersection will be signalized.
- It will provide two through lanes in each direction on Route 17B.
- Two right lanes into the casino from westbound Route 17B.
West Broadway and Route 42:
- Full signalization should be installed.
- The west leg of the intersection, 34 feet wide, should be striped to provide two approach lanes, one through lane and one right turn lane.
Interchange 104 (Route 17) Bridge:
- The interchange should be restriped to provide two through lanes southbound and one lane northbound, and the present left turn lanes on the bridge should be eliminated.
- The westbound exit ramp should be widened in order to provide the transition to two lanes.
- The eastbound entrance ramp should be widened to permit a two-lane right turn from the extension of Route 17B, transitioning to a single lane before the merge with Route 17B.
The BIA will be reviewing the impact statement as well as public comment on the plan. The comment period ended April 2. The BIA may make further recommendations to Empire Resorts based on their findings.
Once the BIA declares that there is no significant environmental impact, the environmental review will be completed.