By Nathan Mayberg
AKWESASNE December 23, 2005 Leaders of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe are beaming following a response by the United States Department of the Interior to questions forwarded to them by the office of New York State Governor George Pataki on their application to build a casino at the Monticello Raceway.
The governor sent the questions to the department last month following a decision by the tribe to switch from its alliance with Harrahs for a casino at Kutshers Sports Academy and return to Empire Resorts for a casino at the raceway.
The department responded by stating they expect to make a determination in January on whether the environmental assessment on the site, which was revised in 2004, meets the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
George Skibine, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development, wrote that if the department determines that additional environmental review or analysis is required, it will work with the parties to resolve outstanding issues. If the department determines that the 2004 EA is sufficient, it will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact and complete its review of the tribes proposal under the land acquisition regulations within approximately two months of receiving the governors concurrence to the 2000 Secretarial two-part determination.
The department issued a two-part determination in 2000 which was supportive of the tribes efforts to build a casino at the raceway. The tribe is looking to build their gaming complex on land put into trust by the federal government.
However, the governor never signed off on the determination. One year later, the tribe switched over to Caesars for a casino at KSA. That move followed the bill passed by the New York State Legislature to authorize three casinos in the Catskills.
New York State Senator John Bonacic has said that the tribe will have to reach an agreement with the local municipalities and the state before the governor can sign off on any deal.
Once they do, it could be one of the last steps for the tribe to build a casino.
According to Gary Garrison, a Public Affairs Specialist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Assistant Secretary has the authority to make a final decision on a land-into-trust application for a Native American casino. That decision will follow the completion of the departments reviews of the project and concurrence from the governor.
The tribe has a $5 million-a-year impact agreement with the Village of Monticello. They had a $10 million-a-year agreement with the county, but that was for the site at KSA. Bonacic has been pushing for a separate impact fee to be returned to the county out of the revenue the state collects from the casino.
Pataki has been supportive of casinos in Sullivan County for several years. His spokesman, Saleem Cheeks, issued a statement on Wednesday stating, We appreciate the BIA updating us in their process and look forward to hearing from them when they decide what, if any, further environmental or other reviews need to be completed. . . . We support gaming in the Catskills.
He said casinos will bring jobs and economic benefits to the area.
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Lorraine White issued a statement on Wednesday in which she said, The Tribal Council is confident that the Department has responded adequately and affirmatively to Governor Pataki and that the tribes development of a casino project in Sullivan County has moved one step closer to becoming reality.
Meanwhile, the traditional faction of the tribe, also known as Akwesasne, has opposed the move by the tribal leaders entirely calling them a fraud.