Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Stockbridge-Munsee Casino

Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Stockbridge-Munsee Casino

March 10, 2005

Franklin Keel, Regional Director
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Eastern Regional Office
711 Stewart Ferry Pike
Nashville, TN 37214

Attn: Kurt Chandler
Re: Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Stockbridge-Munsee Casino

Dear BIA and Other Involved Agencies:

I am writing as President of Orange Environment, Inc., a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization concerned over its 21 years with protecting the integrity of the environment and communities of Orange County and its region and promoting sustainability. OEI has had standing over this time to adjudicate and litigate on behalf of the residents of Orange County on issues of major environmental import. Please consider OEI an interested party with regard to this application.

While the DEIS prepared by Rizzo Associates purports to address cumulative and regional impacts of concern to OEI, particularly traffic and Air Quality Impacts, we are concerned that the type and level of analysis falls far short in establishing a factual record for the permitting agencies to rely upon in rendering their decisions.

In particular, the DEIS and its appendices B and I fail to adequately take into account impacts to Orange County due to traffic on the Rt. 17 (86) corridor and on radiating traffic on other Orange County roads.

In a nutshell, Rt. 17 serves as a transportation corridor for numerous constituencies that cumulatively comprise its flow of traffic. These subgroups of travelers include the following:

  1. Local traffic which relies on Rt 17 as the main street of Orange County. There are no redundant alternatives available to play this role.
  2. Commuter traffic which uses Rt 17 as a main thoroughfare, with the dominant traffic flow going to and from the New York Metropolitan Region via the New York State Thruway and the Harriman toll booths. Rail commuter traffic heavily uses the Harriman station, adding it to the same dynamic.
  3. Tourist and shopping traffic which heavily uses the Woodbury Commons outlet site in Harriman.
  4. Through traffic of a national scale that utilizes the Rt 17/Rt 86 corridor. The truck portion of this flow and the volume of the flow itself will increase when Rt. 17 becomes Rt. 86.
  5. Through residential traffic to growth areas of Sullivan County.
  6. Catskill vacation traffic that utilizes Rt 17 particularly in summer and on weekends.

The existing traffic volume due to these constituents has dropped the LOS on RT 17 to the lowest level for peak portions of the week. It is now common to have lengthy waits during morning and evening commutes and extreme waits during Friday evening and Sunday evening periods. Friday mixes commuter and vacation traffic, but Sunday evening has caused similar backups of miles before the toll booths. Inclement weather and increasingly common accidents cause ad hoc waits along this system. This problem has not been solved by increasing speed limits, which have dramatically increased hazards of driving on Rt. 17.

In short, there is a traffic crisis already on Rt. 17 without the Rt. 86 conversion. Additional major sources of traffic growth threaten to shut down the system so that it does not work for mobility.
The crisis is matched by traffic congestion on secondary roads throughout Orange County and by traffic dynamics on Rts 84 and 87. Likewise, these issues radiate south from Orange County to Rockland and Bergen Counties, and can certainly be felt in major intersection zones, such as that in Mahwah where Rts. 17, 287, and 87 merge.

And there is a note of deep irony in creating traffic dependent casinos up a road corridor whose level of service is failing and which will be pushed over the edge by the cumulative project proposals under discussion.

How well does this DEIS address these issues?

There is some acknowledgment in the DEIS (p. 181) that the project will have a significant impact on traffic in its most congested point along the Rt 17 corridor, projecting a 5% increase in traffic volume in the Goshen area. In Table 5-19, there is a further projection that the 2001 level of 99,000 vehicles in average daily traffic passing by the Goshen area will grow to 119,100 in 2011 even with no build and to 124,900 in 2011 if the project is built. Cumulative impact figures are not provided. Assuming for a moment that these figures are adequate projections, and considering the cumulative effects of all growth, we see that the existing lowering levels of service on this vital artery are due to plummet to a point of disaster, perhaps even without the project and certainly without the cumulative Sullivan growth impacts.

The DEIS would have us ignore these impacts as insignificant. They are not. And they must be considered fully. Our confidence in the significance of the Orange County road impacts comes from our own analyses, those done by the Orange County Department of Planning, and new confirmatory analyses recently undertaken for NRDC. Just today, there were reports of a new analysis addressing impacts in Orange County to the Town of Montgomery due to traffic impacts on Rt. 17K.

Likewise for the air pollution consequences of this traffic quagmire.

While the micro-scale analysis of the project concludes impacts including increased CO and PM10 due to project and cumulative traffic, the Meso or region-scale analysis does not examine these NAAQS. Instead, this analysis rests upon the ozone precursors VOCS and NOx.

While overall VOCs are shown to increase 2.8% for the project and 6.5% under cumulative analysis and NOx 3.1 % and 7.4% respectively, Tables 5.29 and 5.30 present data showing for the project less than a 1% increase in VOCS and NOx in Orange County, deeming this contribution insignificant. The cumulative impact is larger, but still considered acceptable.
These conclusions are decidedly a matter for interpretation.

As the Table below, based upon Table 6.2, shows, daily roadway VOC and NOx in Orange County is hardly insignificant.

Pollutants 2011 no-build 2011 build 2011 cumulative build
VOC 5,526 5,678 5,887
NOx 16,175 16,678 17,371

In fact, these figures demonstrate that sizable amounts of these air pollutants are present. The extent of the total contaminant load allows the DEIS to argue that the additional contribution from the Project or from Cumulative Sullivan sources is not significant. However, this conclusion flies in the face of NEPA and its intent to address cumulative sources that, by themselves may be relatively insignificant, but in sum, present a cumulative problem. The point simply is that the addition of these ozone precursors is negative in itself and particularly negative in sum.

The same logical problem occurs when the DEIS attempts to dismiss the importance of Ozone precursors, hazardous on their own, and doubly so as sources of ozone. The DEIS argues that ozone is a downstream phenomenon. The ozone formed over Orange County will affect someplace else, just as Orange County can never be free itself of ozone formed from downwind sources. Herein lies a tautology that NEPA seeks to address because the reasoning used absolves anyone from responsibility to address ozone. In fact, regional transport of ozone in no way absolves anyone from addressing localized sources and it certainly does not absolve the involved agencies from weighing new sources that will affect an already damaged region.

I note for the record that Orange County is already out of compliance for Ozone, as is the larger metropolitan region. Therefore, New York State, through its State Implementation Plan, and any project reviewing agency—from the local to the federal—must pay careful attention to sources that contribute to ozone.

I remind the agency that ozone in its tropospheric form is an air quality standard about which we know increasingly more over time. It is the source of respiratory distress on short term to long term timescales, elevating ozone to an issue of irreversible and irreparable nature. Every citizen of Orange County is placed at risk by these pollutants; their transport from elsewhere underscores issues of irresponsibility and disregard that have generated numerous downwind state lawsuits. Increasing local generation is unacceptable. And the casino(s) are point sources, in effect, for this enhanced generation.

As a former consultant to the State of New Jersey studying the impacts of ozone exceedances, I can confirm that the human costs of an ozone prevention program based upon avoidance is extraordinary. Where you cannot reduce ambient airborne ozone, it becomes necessary to severely limit human exposure to the outdoors during summer months during exceedences for much of the daylight hours. This has a particular impact on the elderly, the young, the ill, sportspeople and exercisers, and laborers. As with stratospheric ozone holes, tropospheric ozone renders the outdoors toxic.

Of course, ozone and its precursors are only one problem. The local site air analysis makes reference to SO2, CO and PM 10. Yet, the analysis of Orange County fails to address these impacts. SO2 is of concern given acidification in the region. CO is of concern because the conversion of the Rt 17 corridor and other roadways into parking lots for extended periods of time promises to add large pockets of CO to areas along the roadway, exposing drivers and workers and residents within the impact zone. A full analysis of all of these impacts is required.

Likewise with particulate matter. Orange County has been notified that it is out of compliance for this NAAQS. Any activity that increases exposure to PM—and the casino project and cumulative scenarios certainly do—must henceforth be analyzed fully, considered carefully, and perhaps modified or denied accordingly. As with ozone, we know increasingly more about PM health effects, and the picture is not pretty. Orange County’s own George Thurston, a professor at NYU’s Sterling Forest campus, is a co-author of the major study providing new authority to these health impacts.

Finally, many air issues not covered by the NAAQS are of concern. And the project cumulatively and individually needs to do an analysis of overall transportation and site related CO2 generation and other global warming gasses.

In sum the project and cumulative projects will dramatically increase PM, CO and other NAAQS exposures along the Rt. 17 corridor, on overflow secondary roads and on other key arteries. The DEIS fails to acknowledge and fully discuss these impacts and their significance for health and for the regulatory compliance status of Orange County. New York State’s responsibility to help its counties comply with the Clean Air Act is also undermined.

There are other related impacts, as well. Road maintenance costs, the costs of road widening, secondary growth impacts along the corridor, increased demand for gasoline and the secondary pollution impacts, service demands (police, fire, EMT), etc., all should have been considered.

It is incumbent on the applicant to address such impacts in its section on mitigation. For example, as OEI has argued with the Mohawk application, mass transit such as a rail connection along the Rt. 17 corridor might divert significant commuter traffic from Rt. 17 and may further allow casinos to avoid traffic on a major scale. The proposed project might further remove parking capacity or charge for parking or might use strong incentives for bus or rail users to induce use of mass transit. In short, the project must be prepared to divert the bulk of its clients to mass transit as a mitigation and thus prerequisite for permitting. Creation of a rail alternative is a reasonable mitigation for the project and certainly for the cumulative projects considered.

There are other issues of note with this DEIS as well.

Alternatives

In Section 3.0, we see a failure of the Alternatives section to address the project in a manner keeping with NEPA’s intent.

No alternatives are considered that would address the potential non-casino development of the site, alternative ways to promote the legitimate interests of the Stockbridge-Munsee or alternative means for promoting the economic development of Sullivan County. Likewise, no alternatives are presented for getting the some 10 million yearly visitors—the bulk arriving along Rt 17 from the east—to and from the casinos.

The Affected Environment

Section 4.0

The affected environment is narrowly defined to include only the project site and the immediately adjacent areas. NEPA’s intent was much for integrative and regional.

Section 6.0

Cumulative impacts are constrained to two other of the four additional proposed casinos, although the larger frame of impact is acknowledged and appropriately put on the agenda for the FEIS. Unfortunately, unless the FEIS is subject to public comment and hearing and unless revision is possible as a recourse of comment, this tactic places the larger cumulative effects outside public review. We therefore demand that a Supplemental Cumulative Impact Assessment be undertaken now, rather than waiting for the FEIS.

The range of the cumulative assessment is also narrow. The impacts associated with the two casinos, four resorts, two recreational/cultural projects, two hotels, three housing units and one commercial project are stated in Table 6-1 on page 230. The list of included projects in the cumulative assessment is inadequate.

For example, the DEIS acknowledges some 8,000 housing unit starts in Sullivan and Orange counties, enough new housing it is suggested to accommodate the housing demands generated by this project (although this ignores existing housing demand, which might well fill these units without the casinos). The cumulative analysis must account for these acknowledged trip-generators, school and service demanders, etc. Known development proposals need to be considered. Given regional growth dynamics, perhaps build out analysis is needed for inclusion in cumulative effects considerations.

For the projects used in the DEIS cumulative assessment, peak hour trips associated with each project are listed without source and the totals are not even offered for these projects. By my addition, 10,819 peak hour trips are acknowledged. No other impacts are addressed, nor detailed impacts associated with these trips. To this, the proposed project will add some 2,260 vehicles. These figures hardly appear to account for the ten million yearly visitors generated by the proposed project alone, without the cumulative impacts.

From the standpoint of regional traffic, the peak hour designation is meaningless. Traffic LOS issues on the Rt 17 corridor toward Harriman and in the Thruway/17/I287 system to the south show multi-hour peak surge periods on Sundays and Fridays and on weekday mornings. Thus, the peak hour estimates shown may be meaningless. As shown in table 5-15, total trips are much greater, ranging between 30,500 and 36,700 trips on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
An additional 100 buses per day are estimated, 30 per weekend peaks (but no cumulative figures are given)

Some concern must also be given to the time comparisons used in the DEIS. Comparisons between 2001 and 2011 projected traffic rates are used. Given that the facility might be operative in 2007 or 2008 under a fast time line, 2011 represents a reasonable year for projecting traffic impacts for the facility to be in full operation. However, NEPA requires that long term as well as short term impacts be considered. Thus, a third comparison point is needed to look at projected full cumulative impacts.

Finally, in this regard, the assumptions for shared trip rates with other casinos are arbitrary. Projecting shared trip rates of 30% with one and 50% with two casinos, we can project that three casinos will share 70% and four 90% of the traffic, making the fifth casino virtually impact free. In fact, trip duplication rates may be dramatically less. The DEIS relies upon Atlantic City, which has casinos united by pedestrian friendly proximity and is therefore clearly not a good model. And the interpretation of the Connecticut casinos as between 0 and 70% traffic duplication shows how meaningless traffic estimates can be. By extension, we would need to consider traffic scenarios for Sullivan county that show impacts for traffic sharing of 0-30% for one casino and 0-50% for two, etc.

Induced Growth

It is interesting that the DEIS assumes only .5% impacts for induced growth against an expected no build growth not associated with the casino. While cumulative impacts are not considered here, it is interesting that the long awaited economic benefits from casino development are valued as such a weak multiplier. It would appear that these economic and other impacts are magnified in touting the benefits of casinos and shrunk when estimating the impacts.

In sum, the DEIS fails to fully identify impacts and to provide for their mitigation. Unless severe and likely impacts of the proposed project can be reasonably mitigated, the project should not be permitted.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.
President, Orange Environment, Inc.
26 Murray Ave., Goshen, NY 10924