Opinion: Casino not smartest option for Catskills

"Eearlier this year, Gov. Eliot Spitzer reached an agreement with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe that brought New York one step closer to having a $600 million Las Vegas-style casino in Sullivan County, in the Catskills. The casino, which still needs final federal approval and faces a lawsuit from environmental groups, could generate up to $100 million for the state and $20 million for the county a year.

But the economic and environmental downside of this deal needs to be more carefully examined. Particularly worrisome is the casino’s planned location within 12 miles of the Catskill Park and New York City’s water supply.

The casino is the governor’s first major upstate economic development initiative. While it demonstrates his desire to see the Catskills prosper, it raises serious questions about his pre-election commitment to smart growth.

If approved, the casino will be 85 miles north of New York City, practically on the border of the 700,000-acre Catskill Park, of which 41 percent, or 290,000 acres, has been acquired by the state, with most of the rest privately owned. Unfortunately, there is no regional land-use authority to control development on private lands, which jeopardizes the area’s water quality and ecological integrity.

Perhaps even more dire is the threat the casino would pose to New York City’s water supply, the largest unfiltered water system in the United States and the source of 90 percent of the city’s drinking water. The city has spent billions of dollars to maintain and improve water quality, which thus far has allowed it to avoid the crippling cost of filtration. Yet today the water supply is in danger, in large part because of development and its associated pollution. Further degradation would require the city to construct a huge filtration plant that would cost as much as $10 billion and push water rates up 50 percent.

It is clear that the governor cares about the economic vitality of places like Sullivan County, but there are other ways to help that do not jeopardize such important recreational and natural resources."

Get the Story:
Kim Elliman and Nathan Berry: High Stakes in the Catskills (The New York Times 4/29)