THE ENTRANCE TO the Stockbridge-Munsee/Trading Cove casino in Bridgeville would be constructed of a unique wood and glass design, as pictured in this illustration supplied by the tribe.
Remember That Other Casino?
By Dan Hust
BRIDGEVILLE September 14, 2007 While some hope for the demise of their dreams, others simply see the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of the Mohican Indians as the runner-ups in a race being won by the St. Regis Mohawks.
Don’t count them out so soon, warned Stockbridge-Munsee President Bob Chicks.
“I do not think it is a question of ‘if’ but ‘when,’” he related in a recent interview.
The Wisconsin-based tribe, which has its ancestral roots in this neck of the woods, recently unveiled its jaw-dropping design for a 650,000-square-foot casino right off Route 17 in Bridgeville.
In a provided drawing, glass panels arch over gigantic hanging plants and cars dropping off visitors to the casino (Phase I) and 15-story hotel (Phase II), planned to be located along County Route 161 on 330 acres overlooking the Neversink River.
The tribe recently held an informational meeting in Rock Hill, designed to let locals know they’re still around.
“Success is somewhat dependent on everyone coming together,” noted Chicks, who has often been the public face of the 3,000-member tribe (some of whom disagree with him on the casino issue).
And bringing everyone together is a tall order so far, the tribe only has a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under its belt, plus a $15 million mitigation payment deal with Sullivan County and a development agreement with Trading Cove New York (though the tribe will manage the casino on its own).
The Mohawks, on the other hand, already have not only local agreements but a management deal with Empire Resorts, state approval and everything they need on the federal level save for Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s signoff to take land into trust at Monticello Raceway (which may never come, considering the secretary’s distaste for off-reservation casinos).
Chicks harbors no animosity toward his casino rivals.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe,” he related. “[The area] is certainly able to comfortably support several casino projects.”
As for those who oppose a casino, Chicks pointed out that his tribe’s casino in Wisconsin has increased jobs (including ones with competitive pay and benefits) and the area’s economy.
“The tribe has been involved in gaming for more than 15 years,” he explained. “In our experience, it has been all positive.”
On this side of the Great Lakes, the Stockbridge-Munsees continue to seek official state and federal recognition as a tribe with New York roots the necessary first step towards their casino dreams.
Then again, they’ve been working on such recognition for 157 years, so patience is apparently in abundant supply.
Plus, they’ve got the expertise of Mohegan Sun developer Len Wolman to guide them.
“The tribe is continuing to move forward in design and development plans,” said Chicks. “We continue to have discussions with the governor’s office and in Washington, DC.”
Tribal workers have already cleared the casino site of 400 tons of material and over 1,000 tires that were leaching chemicals into the river, said Chicks, and the former salvage yard is now being reclaimed by nature.
“They’ve met every single representation,” affirmed Thompson Deputy Supervisor Bill Rieber. “They’ve been a pleasure to deal with straightforward and honest. They’re gentlemen and ladies, and I think they’d make wonderful neighbors.”
Calling the tribe “realistic” about the casino, Rieber considers it just as possible that the Stockbridge-Munsees will gain a casino as the Mohawks. It remains a waiting game either way.
“I think they’re both exactly in the same boat,” he observed.
Casino-Free Sullivan County leader Joan Thursh agrees in that both tribes are awaiting further governmental approvals.
“I think they are all something to worry about,” she said, speaking for a 50-core-member group that has actively opposed local casinos.
She warned that the Stockbridge-Munsees could face a far bigger fight than the Mohawks should they proceed.
“They haven’t cleaned up the site,” she claimed of the tribe’s efforts, saying they hadn’t dug deep enough to uncover the potentially toxic junk some believe still exists at the casino site.
Thursh is optimistic, however, that any environmental concerns may never be an issue, not just because she believes the majority of Sullivan County residents don’t favor casinos but because of the fact that Kempthorne is still sitting on the Mohawks’ virtually complete application.
“We believe he really is opposed to these casinos,” she observed.
Nevertheless, Thursh knows there is much money and power to move the process along, promising that “should the Stockbridge-Munsees’ application be approved, there will be enormous resistance.”
But it’s not just about a casino in Sullivan County, said Chicks, who explained that official recognition of ancestral roots is most important to his people.
Indeed, at its press conference, the tribe showed off a copy of an old map from the Smithsonian Institution which showed the Town of Thompson area in Munsee territory.
“Behind all of the discussions and talks focusing on gaming is the history of the Stockbridge tribe,” he said.