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Feds oppose casino

By Kathy Daley
SULLIVAN COUNTY — February 15, 2011 — In the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states lack the authority to tax Indians on Indian reservations and cannot regulate Indian activities on the reservations. That ruling set the stage for Indian gaming.
Some 40 years later, Sullivan County still awaits its own Native American-run casino, and a recent turnabout by federal officials would seem to scuttle the latest attempt.
The proposal by the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe to build a $560 million gaming center in Bridgeville outside of Monticello — with an inked agreement by then-Gov. David Paterson — has come under recent fire by U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) officials.
The DOI is questioning the viability of the tribe’s land claim and the ability of the Interior Department to approve the new casino without Congressional okay.
In response, Stockbridge-Munsee says it will continue to lobby Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
“We negotiated in good faith over the course of many months, indeed, years,” said Tribe President Kimberly Vele in Feb. 2 testimony before the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering, “and worked cooperatively with many different competing interests, including County and local interests, before reaching terms that all could live with.”
In a letter to federal officials, tribe attorney Don B. Miller pointed out that the Native American group has sought an agreement “that would promote the Tribe’s economic well being and protect the burial sites of its ancestors in New York’s Hudson Valley, thereby to redress in some measure the injustices resulting from Federal and State policies carried out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
The tribe and its casino plan “(have) won the support of New York’s principal elected officials, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Congressmen Hinchey and Owens, former Governor Paterson and now Governor Cuomo,” Miller said.
The casino planned for Bridgeville, off exit 107 of Route 17 on 333 acres, overlooks the Neversink River.
“The Town of Thompson is smack dab in Munsee territory,” said Munsee spokeswoman Maureen Connelly.
The construction project would be the largest ever in the county and would take seven years to complete. Eventually, the casino planned to employ 4,900 people in full time jobs and have an economic impact of $715.6 million on Sullivan and surrounding counties.
Nine-year history
The proposal to settle the Stockbridge-Munsee claim for lands lost in the nineteenth century by building in Sullivan County go back to 2002.
It was then the tribe reached an agreement with the county to pay $15 million annually in order to mitigate impacts from the planned project.
In following years, the Stockbridge-Munsees went ahead with water and sewer agreements with the Town of Thompson and the Village of Monticello and the Town and submitted a final Environmental Impact Statement to the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In December 2004, then-Governor George Pataki signed an “Agreement of Settlement and Compromise to Resolve the Stockbridge-Munsee Land Claim in the State of New York.”
In 2005, the Sullivan County legislature approved a resolution supporting a proposal that would authorize five casino resorts, including the one proposed by the Stockbridge-Munsee. The Towns of Thompson, Mamakating, Fallsburg and Liberty and the Villages of Liberty and Monticello passed resolutions favoring the five casino resorts.
Last year, Governor Paterson wrote to the Secretary of the Interior in support of the Stockbridge-Munsee land claim settlement and taking land into trust in Sullivan County on which gaming might be conducted.
Long NY presence
The Stockbridge-Munsee, Band of Mohican Indians, is located on a reservation in Wisconsin, but the group has a long history in New York. Its presence along the Hudson River and Delaware River predates that of the colonies.
The tribe was twice forced to leave its New York homelands, first for a Colonial-era reservation in Massachusetts and later for Wisconsin.
The Stockbridge-Munsees are the only federally recognized tribe of Mohican descendants.

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