By Nathan Mayberg
WASHINGTON, DC April 18, 2006 Plans for a casino at the Monticello Raceway by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe will have to wait.
The United States Department of the Interiors Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) responded to the tribes application for a land-to-trust deal by telling them their environmental assessment will need more work.
According to Brendan White, Director of Public Information for the tribe, the BIA submitted a list of nine issues the tribe needs to address in their environmental impact statement.
The BIA called for a more detailed explanation as well as for additional documentation on the plan before the BIA can issue a Finding of No Significant Impact. The tribe will also have to respond individually to each of the comments.
White said the tribe submitted an environmental assessment form which is in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and included a full environmental impact statement under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The BIA had intended to respond by February, but apparently the host of issues delayed their review by two months. Officials from the department were away on vacation yesterday and thus not available for comment.
A copy of their two-page letter was not made available immediately by White. He said he would have to check to see if it could be shared.
While the BIA was reviewing the case, members of the Mohawk Nation wrote letters to the Department of the Interior and numerous agencies arguing that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe did not speak for the entire nation and that their casino plans were illegal. In fact, they said the two tribes are completely separate.
However, the St. Regis Mohawks maintain they are the duly elected and federally recognized government of the Mohawk people.
Tribal Chief Lorraine White said, The Tribal Council is committed to sufficiently addressing each of the items as soon as possible.
In addition, she called upon New York State Governor George Pataki to concur with BIAs two-part determination in 2000 that the site of the casino would be beneficial to the tribe and not be detrimental to the village, town or county. Patakis approval of the determination is one of the requirements necessary for the tribe to complete a land-to-trust application for a casino at the raceway.
Until late last year, the tribe was moving forward on casino plans with Harrahs at the site of Kutshers Sports Academy. However, they have since returned to work with Empire Resorts for a casino at Monticello Raceway, where they originally planned to do so.
David P. Hanlon, Empire's President and CEO, commented, "The list of items from the Department of the Interior is consistent with our expectations and provides a definitive roadmap for moving forward with the environmental assessment. We have already begun work on all remaining items such that we can obtain a modified EA as soon as possible.