By Nathan Mayberg
WASHINGTON, DC January 20, 2006 The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is calling upon the United States Department of the Interior to require the St. Regis Mohawks to submit a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on its proposed casino at the site of Monticello Raceway.
The NRDC wrote an 8-page letter to the department last week, asking the department to follow the law.
The department is currently reviewing whether such a statement is necessary. In 2000, the Department of the Interior issued a two-part positive determination on the tribes application to build a casino at the raceway.
However, New York State Governor George Pataki never signed off on the determination. Within a year, the tribe switched its site to Kutshers Sports Academy. Last year, the DOI completed public hearings on the full environmental impact statement submitted by the tribe.
The organization called upon the department to satisfy its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and require the full-blown statement.
The tribe and the raceway have filed an EIS under state law. In 1996 and 1998, the tribe submitted an environmental impact statement to the Village of Monticello Planning Board. In 2003, an environmental assessment form was submitted by the raceway for the tribe. In 2004, an environmental assessment form was filed for the Cayuga tribe, which has since parted ways with the raceway.
Furthermore, the organization said the department would be acting inconsistently if it didnt require the full federal EIS.
A number of things have changed over the years, wrote the NRDC. Among them is a resolution passed by the Sullivan County Legislature supporting five casinos in the county.
They also took the department to task for failing to release documents sought through the Freedom of Information Act. They stated they would push for judicial review of the case.
George Skibine, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development in the Department of the Interior, said he expects a decision on the need for a full environmental impact statement to be made within the next month.
Raceway Lawsuit Dropped
In other raceway news, the track said that the Monticello Harness Horsemans Association has agreed to drop its lawsuit to stop testing for milkshakes in horses.
Milkshakes is a term for a mix of chemicals that are believed to improve a horses performance and is considered a banned substance by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
Both sides met last week in Albany with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in an effort to work out their other disagreements, including allegations by the horsemen that the track has withheld $4 million in revenue from them. The track has also cut off health coverage to the horsemen.
That resulted in the horsemen refusing to approve out-of-state simulcasting for their races. None of those issues have been resolved.
The associations attorney, Joseph Faraldo, is out of town for the next three weeks, which could impede progress on the issue.
That fact was not lost on Mighty M Gaming Senior Vice President Cliff Ehrlich, who derided Faraldo for going on a lengthy vacation in the middle of such a heated battle.
Still, he said he was hopeful that there would be a resolution. He called the end of the milkshake lawsuit a big deal. That was a start.
Ehrlich said the track has cut purses in half due to the loss of simulcasting revenue. He said overall racing revenue was down one-third due to the loss of simulcasting.
For example, a typical Monday will net the track $750,000 in wagering revenue. But last Monday, they only netted $250,000.
As for the health insurance, Ehrlich said the track thought the horsemen could afford the health insurance since they are making twice as much as they used to.