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Mohawk tribe wins approval for Catskills casino
Monday, October 6, 2003

After more than two years of deliberations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is proposing to take land into trust for the first off-reservation casino in the Catskills region of New York.

In a Federal Register notice being published today, the BIA announces its intent to acquire 66 acres for the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation. The land is located hundreds of miles away from the tribe's upstate reservation but only 90 minutes north of New York City.

The decision is a win for the tribe and its partner, Park Place Entertainment, the largest casino company in the world. The tribe had previously received approval during the Clinton administration for an off-reservation casino but at a different site in the Catskills and with a different gaming firm.

The only snag is that Aurene Martin, the BIA's principal deputy assistant secretary, is requiring a more stringent environmental impact statement to be completed before the decision is finalized in January 2004. In the notice, which was signed last Wednesday, she said a draft would be available by November 1.

Gov. George Pataki (R) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), strong proponents of the casino, had been urging the BIA to accept the tribe's environmental assessment. But in the notice, Martin said that changes to the project the need for additional review.

The tribe is looking at a 450,000-square-foot casino, a 2,000-seat theater and several restaurants. Plans for a 2,000-room hotel have been pared to 700 rooms. A parking structure would be built on 141 acres of land adjacent to the 66 acres the BIA will take into trust. Overall, the project is expected to cost $500 million.

The impetus for the casino was Pataki, who successfully lobbied for the biggest expansion of gaming in New York history. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, state lawmakers passed legislation that authorized compacts for three casinos in the Catskills.

The Akwesasne Nation, also known as the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, is the first to gain approval for a casino there. The tribe submitted its land-into-trust application in March 2001, nearly a year after dropping Catskill Development, its former partner, and signed a compact with Pataki in May of this year.

The casino is supported by the local community, which hopes gaming will restore the economically-depressed region. The tribe is expected to pay a $15 million annual fee to the local county although tribal leaders have questioned the amount.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, based in Wisconsin, has submitted a 333-acre land-into-trust application to the BIA for what it hopes will be the second Catskills facility. The tribe doesn't have a compact, and Pataki, along with other tribes in New York, say out-of-state tribes don't have gaming rights. The tribe's partner is Trading Cove Associates, the group that launched the Mohegan Tribe's casino in Connecticut.

The Cayuga Nation of New York is also in the game. The tribe submitted a 30-acre land-into-trust application and its partner is Empire Resorts.

The Seneca Nation, which already operates one off-reservation casino and is moving forward with a second, and the Oneida Nation are interested, but have not submitted any applications, according to news reports.

According to the BIA notice, the agency is accepting public comments on the 'scope and implementation" of the draft EIS. Issues to be address would include traffic, noise, water, wetlands, social and "cumulative effects" of the casino.

Public comments on the scope are due October 5 with a public hearing being held on Wednesday in Monticello in Sullivan County. The final EIS is expected to be published in January 2004 and will be followed by a 30-day public comment period. A "record of decision" is expected to be issued on or about March 1, 2004, the notice states.

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Mohawk Mountain Resort and Casino, Sullivan County, NY | PDF

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