Interior Secretary Rejects Catskill Casino Plans
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
The federal government rejected plans for two casinos in the Catskill Mountains on Friday, saying that the reservations of the two tribes that submitted the plans were too far from where the casinos would be built.
The decision was a major setback in the 30-year effort to bring gambling to Sullivan County, which proponents hoped would breathe new life into the area’s depressed economy.
One of the proposed casinos, at Monticello Raceway, received the support of Gov. Eliot Spitzer and was expected to attract six million visitors a year, generate 3,000 jobs and provide New York State with an estimated $100 million a year. But the plans faced intense opposition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups, and required the final approval of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
On Friday, Mr. Kempthorne sent a letter to the St. Regis Mohawk tribe saying that the proposed casino in Monticello was too far from its Akwesasne Reservation, which is about 300 miles away, near Massena, on the Canadian border. He also sent a nearly identical letter to the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, which is based in Wisconsin and had planned to build a large casino in the town of Thompson, not far from Monticello.
Mr. Kempthorne, who has long opposed Indian casinos on nonreservation land, said in his letters that the casinos would be too far away to offer jobs to tribal residents and that forcing residents to relocate would hurt the reservations.
“The departure of a significant number of reservation residents and their families could have serious and far-reaching implications for the remaining tribal community and its continuity as a community,” he said in the letters.
In a statement released Friday night, the Natural Resources Defense Council called the decision a major victory and said the casinos would have burdened the Catskills with pollution, traffic congestion and sprawl.
Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York who has strongly supported the proposed casinos, said proponents of the plans would not give up. “It is clear that the next opportunity for these proposed casinos to move forward and be objectively evaluated will be under a new administration by a different secretary of the interior, who under current law has the final determination in this matter at this time,” he said in a statement.