MONTICELLO, NY-As Gov. Eliot Spitzer is about to issue a key ruling that could bring about the construction of the St. Regis Mohawk casino in the near future, a consortium of environmental and conservation organizations filed suit on Tuesday in the federal court seeking to delay the venture. The groups, which include the Natural Resources Defense Council of New York City and locally based Sullivan County Farm Bureau, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, and Orange Environment Inc. filed suit in US District Court in Manhattan charging that the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs should have required a full environmental impact study of the proposed gaming venture.

On Dec. 21 the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” on the $600-million project to be built on property adjacent to Monticello Raceway by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in partnership with Empire Resorts Inc.

Spitzer must sign off on a concurrence of the Fonsi. After that has been secured, the Department of Interior’s agreement to take the Monticello property into trust for the tribe is the last regulatory step before the project can break ground. Now, not unexpectedly, the casino venture must now clear a legal hurdle as well.

A spokesperson for the National Resource Defense Council says that although the suit was filed in Manhattan, the case will be tried before US District Court Judge Charles Brieant in federal court in White Plains.

“Sullivan County citizens deserve a complete examination of how this massive casino development will affect their daily lives,” says Richard Schrader, New York legislative director for the NRDC. “Some folks down in Washington may want to cut the corners, but the Catskills communities deserve better. They are entitled to protection and fairness by law.”

“The building of this casino is going to bring increased congestion to Route 17–our Main Street–and more air pollution to the region,” says Michael Edelstein, president of Orange Environment Inc. “There is an obligation to show how this casino project and others would alter every day life, health and safety, and the economy throughout the impacted area. And, as things now stand, the federal government has failed to consider real alternatives to the proposed raceway casino or how the negative impacts might be mitigated.”

Leaders of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and Empire Resorts term the litigation “a desperate attempt to sabotage a project that will provide a much needed economic boost to Sullivan County” and state that the plan has been subject to considerable environmental review by federal and state regulatory authorities.

David Hanlon, president of Empire Resorts, comments, “This site was specifically recommended as the preferred build alternative because it is the best site for this project and one that will preserve and protect treasured green spaces in Sullivan County.”

St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Lorraine White adds, “We are confident that this complaint will be dismissed in due course and that a court will approve the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ environmental review process for this project.”

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