By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 19, 2006 An article published in the New York Times Friday claiming the United States Department of the Interior had completed its review of the proposed St. Regis Mohawk casino behind the Monticello Raceway, sent shockwaves from Sullivan County to Akwesasne to the stock market.
By the end of the day, that rumor was discredited, with officials at the department stating a decision was due “very soon.” That could likely mean this week. Officials also intimated that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was leaning toward such a finding expressed in the article.
James Cason, associate deputy secretary for Indian Affairs at the department, let out the news prematurely, according to BIA spokeswoman Nedrea Darling and other officials. Darling said the review was continuing and that nothing had yet been signed.
The news seemed imminent, however, with stocks of Empire Resorts moving up two dollars between Wednesday and Friday apparently on an expectation that such a decision was near.
The article had such an effect that NBC News drove up from NYC on Friday to Monticello to interview officials, including Town of Thompson Councilman William Rieber. Supporters and opponents both rushed to send out statements on a decision which had not actually occurred.
Sullivan County legislators, under the impression that such action had been taken, sent a letter to New York State Governor George Pataki calling on him to sign a concurrence letter between the BIA and tribe.
The letter, signed by Chairman Chris Cunningham on behalf of the legislature, stated, “The proposed casino would create jobs within our County, and bring millions of needed revenue dollars to our public works, public safety and education programs.”
The tribe has an agreement with the county to pay it $15 million a year as well as remit sales tax on applicable items at the casino and a possible hotel. The Village of Monticello is also working on tweaking the details of a previous agreement which it signed several years ago for $5 million a year.
Some opponents and public officials have argued that such a payment would not be sufficient to cover the added expenses that such a development would have on county services, schools and other infrastructure. Since the land will be put into trust, it will not be responsible for paying any taxes.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, attacked the BIA as having “dodged its responsibility to protect Catskill residents.” The advocacy group argued that the 6 million visitors projected to visit the casino each year will cause traffic buildups in the Catskills as well as the major highways which lead into Sullivan County.
If and when the BIA decides to declare a negative declaration on the environmental impact, the Governor will have to concur. That decision will either be up to Pataki, who only has a couple more weeks in office, or it will rest with Elliot Spitzer, the Governor-elect. He has made a number of statements in support of a casino in the Catskills.
Once the governor signs off, the BIA will review the land into trust application, a process which could take several months up to a year, according to Darling. Then, a compact will have to be signed between the Governor and the tribe. By that timeline, the earliest a casino could be up and running in Monticello would appear to be midway through 2009.
Empire Resorts spokesman Charles Degliomini was expectantly jubilant Friday before the article had been discredited. However, he described the property behind the raceway as “one of the most environmentally reviewed properties.” Degliomini said the compact which will need to be reached with the tribe and Pataki will only need to be slightly amended, as a compact has been reached previously.
The proposed $600 million casino would sit on 29 acres of land to be taken into trust adjacent to the Monticello Raceway. Backers are promising 3,500 direct full time casino related jobs and 2,650 direct construction related jobs.