Casino stirs Orange County interests

By DAVID HULSE

MONTICELLO, NY — Several county and village officials testified at the June 23 hearing for the Mohawk Mountain Hotel and Casino draft environmental impact study (DEIS)—Orange County officials.

Sullivan County’s more populous easterly neighbor was represented at last week’s Thompson Planning Board hearing by its planning commissioner David Church, county legislators Jeffrey Berkman and Roxanne Donnery, and Goshen mayor Scott Wohl.

The majority of speakers voiced opposition to any casino project, but the Orange County contingent are principally seeking status as a community eligible for host community benefit money from the new casinos, without an opinion on gaming.

“I’m not against casinos,” said Berkman, who resides in both Sullivan and Orange counties. “We don’t want Sullivan County’s $15 million [host benefit]. But there should be an open mind to a second mitigation fund,” Berkman said.

Berkman said additional casino traffic on Route 17 would cause havoc on local roads because they will get additional use from residents trying to avoid the casino traffic. “They should have started another lane on [Route] 17 long ago,” he said.

Berkman said the residents are “the local indigenous tribes,” to be considered. “There’s lots of money. That’s what this is about. Albany should commit to a special impact fund before it takes its cut,” he said.

Donnery said she represents the Woodbury area, which is already well acquainted with traffic issues. “I have no opinion on casinos. I just want our financial costs addressed,” she said.

Goshen Mayor Scott Wohl was accompanied by former Sullivan County Attorney Ira Cohen, who has been hired to begin a negotiation to include Orange in a host benefit package. Wohl said he did not come to obstruct or oppose. “I just want to provide the same protection for the residents of my village as you would in yours.”

Church said his department’s review found the DEIS deficient “and we will comment as such,” to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The key point according to Church was the need for a regional discussion of traffic, including all areas of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, “to solve the emerging traffic crisis.”

Michael Edelsen, president of Orange Environmental, agreed about the deficiency, saying the DEIS does not discuss impacts on Orange County and “where they are addressed, they are incomplete and downright wrong.

“If you bring Route 17 to a standstill, there will be impacts. It’s the heart of Orange County,” he said.

Edelsen said Orange Environmental would call adjudication by the Department of Environmental Conservation (the same legal process Sullivan County is now going through regarding expansion of its landfill). “And we want to be party to that adjudication,” Edelsen said.

Marc Baez, president of the Sullivan Partnership for Economic Development, joined several people who spoke in favor of the casino project. Baez said he could not recall Orange County complaints when the traffic consisted of Sullivan residents spending their money in Orange County.

But a wide majority of speakers opposed the project. “There’s been no referendum. Why were we not given a vote? We are part of the impact,” said resident Sally Gladden.

Several comments included complaints about the limited access and availability of the DEIS study. Based on those comments, acting Sullivan County Planning Board Chair Patrice Chester announced at the end of the two-and-half-hour session that more copies would be made available and that the comment period would be extended 15 days to July 21.

TRR photo by David Hulse
Orange County Legislator Jeffrey Berkman of Middletown spoke at the Monticello hearing. (Click for larger version)