Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can New York gamble its way out of debt?

New York Gov. David Paterson is renewing a push to allow Indian casinos in the Catskills, a long-stalled project that would boost revenue for the state and the region but is bitterly opposed by environmental groups and others.

Paterson's aides and federal officials, including Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, Ulster County, met yesterday with Larry EchoHawk, head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, in Sullivan County hopes of getting federal approval to build three casinos in the Catskills.

The Star-Gazette reports that Paterson's budget office estimates the casinos would produce thousands of jobs and about $150 million a year in new state revenue from the operation of slot machines.

The state Legislature has approved six Indian casinos - three in the Catskills and three in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area. But the Catskills' proposals suffered a setback in January 2008 when then-Bush Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne rejected proposals by about 20 tribes nationally, including two in the Catskills, to take off-reservation land into trust to build casinos.

Democratic officials are now pressing the Obama administration to overturn the ruling.

In a statement Schumer, a Democrat, said, "I am confident that with a new administration we have a new way of thinking about applications that are finite, focused, appropriate for the region and have strong community support."

A separate meeting with casino opponents

EchoHawk also met separately with the Catskill Mountainkeeper, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and more than a dozen other organizations opposed to the Catskill casino proposals.

Richard Schrader the New York Legislative Director of the NRDC, center, chats with Mike Edelstin of Orange Environment Inc., right, as NRDC Senior Attorney, Mark Izeman listens before the start of the hearings.

THR/Michele Haskell

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who represents the Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance, made a conference call expressing concerns about the impact on the reservoirs, which provide drinking water to millions of residents in New York City.

In a message to its supporters, the Catskill Mountainkeeper said that the proposed casinos "range from building on 333 acres along a mile stretch of the Neversink River to building an estimated 2,000,000 square foot casino complex in Bridgeville. At least 2 of the proposals estimate that they would each draw 6,000,000 visitors a year."

The organization claims that the developments pose a "dramatically negative impact on the character of our region, our air quality and threaten our drinking water supply. The effect of adding hundreds of thousands of cars to our already crowded roadways would have adverse effects on our business and commerce."


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