Mohawk Mountain Casino 20040623

Mohawk Mountain Casino 20040623

June 23, 2004

U.S. Department of the Interior,
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Eastern Regional Office, 711
Stewarts Ferry Pike
Nashville, TN 37214,
National Indian Gaming Commission
1441 L Street, NW 9th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005,
Town of Thompson, NY
Town Planning Board
4052 Route 42
Monticello, NY 12701
Re: ST. REGIS MOHAWK TRIBE MOHAWK MOUNTAIN CASINO AND RESORT 66-Acre Fee-to-Trust Acquisition and Casino Project, Sullivan County, New York
Dear Lead 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.

From the perspective of issues affecting residents of Orange County, the DEIS submitted for the Mohawk Mountain Resort under NEPA, with the Supplemental Environmental Study intended to address SEQR concerns, is woefully inadequate, inaccurate and distorting. The document fails to serve as a guide to decision makers for this project on how to balance various social, economic and environmental impacts. Moreover, it neglects to reveal factual issues of great import that bear on whether this project should be permitted at all or permitted with substantial mitigation only. Because the content of the DEIS is totally at odds with the reality, as supported by expert assessment, an adjudicatory hearing is required to clarify the truth upon which decisions for this project hinge. We therefore call for such a hearing and indicate our intent to file as an involved party. What are the substantive issues that I am referring to?

1. Traffic

the DEIS and SDEIS use an inadequate model for estimating traffic growth for the proposed project alone, and compounded by impacts of other gambling projects in Sullivan County. As a result, inaccurate data with regard to traffic impacts in Orange County are presented and wrong conclusion about the significance of cumulative regional traffic impact are drawn. Among others, the Orange County Department of Planning has conducted expert research on this question. It has alerted the lead agencies of its concerns. In an adjudicatory hearing, we will call, at a minimum, staff of this agency to critique the traffic model and to present data that will invert the conclusions.

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. 4. Tourist and shopping traffic which heavily uses the Woodbury Commons outlet site in Harriman. 5. 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. 6. Through residential traffic to growth areas of Sullivan County. 7. 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.

Against this dire reality, the SDEIS and DEIS conclude that there is no problem. This conclusion ignores the fact that the casino traffic is greatest at the existing peaks,on Friday and Sunday evenings. Moreover, the projected traffic growth models can be faulted for many reasons. For some reason, induced traffic to the casinos from most of Orange, and large portions of Rockland, Westchester Bergen, and Putnam Counties within a fifty mile radius is ignored. The likely volume of casino traffic from Long Island is grossly underestimated (the shortest casino route for these residents by vehicle is the Catskills). Use of charter bus and other mass transit has been overestimated because the dispersed nature of these resorts is likely to attract drivers who can best take advantage of the opportunity to gamble at multiple casinos during a given visit. The anticipated 35% of induced traffic from the southeast should be more on the order of seventy per cent.

The overall result means that, as Rt 17 congests toward a standstill, use of secondary roads as cut throughs and bypasses will surge. These roads, in many cases already at capacity, will then become incapacitated.

Needless to say, as accident rates associated with the traffic volume increase, demand on emergency services-fire, ambulance, hospitals and police-in the county will be significantly impacted.

These issues vital to Orange County are either ignored or are distorted by the DEIS and SDEIS. As a result, significant impacts will be overlooked and mitigations not considered if there is not an effort to adjudicate these matters.

2. Air Pollution

The SDEIS and DEIS fail to anticipate the certain increase in air pollution in Orange County, already in nonattainment for ozone. In fact, they do not include Orange County in their analysis at all!

Increased traffic along the roads in Orange County will add all of the national ambient air quality standard pollutants in great quantity. Thus, not only will summertime ozone levels soar, but particulate and carbon monoxide exposures among the Orange County populace will increase exponentially. Hydrocarbon, lead, nitrous and sulfuric oxides, and other additions to our local atmosphere will be dramatic. Given the proximity of residents’ homes and business to the roadway, localized exposure patterns will become a direct health concern, particularly in certain weather conditions. In particular, short term respiratory problems can be expected.

The effect of the cumulative traffic congestion caused by this and other projects will have significant adverse effects upon air pollution and environmental health. These impacts are ignored by the impact studies. They need to be understood by decision makers and serve as a basis for project denial or mitigation.

3. Character of Community

As Orange County suffers from extraordinary congestion on Rt 17 and secondary roads, its character as a good place to live and do business will suffer. Quality of life will be degraded. I well recall research that I did in 1975 on life in Paramus, New Jersey. On main thoroughfare streets, residential quality plummeted. People feared having to leave their driveways. Congested traffic also adds noise, stress, and visual degradation.

4. Environmental Justice

In communities along the Rt 17 corridor, that are many instances of the most disadvantaged living closest to the highway corridor. No investigation of potential EJ issues has been conducted to ascertain whether people of color or of poverty will be the primary sensitive receptors for the air pollution, noise and other harms associated with congestion and increased traffic volumes. The fact that a substantial population lives within a mile of the roadway makes such an analysis imperative.

5. Cumulative Impact

Consideration in the DEIS and SDEIS of cumulative impacts is inadequate. The Rt. 17 corridor will be affected by the shift to Rt 86, extremely high rates of growth in Orange County, a similar growth dynamic in Sullivan, induced in part by the project, the new arts center, and the four gambling projects.

6. Irreversible and Irretrievable Impacts and Energy

The traffic congestion dynamic described here will contribute to global climate change. This effect has not been addressed.

7. Development of Alternatives and Mitigations

Unless appropriate mitigations are made part of this project, it should not be approved. Yet, few options exist to address congestion and air pollution on Rt. 17/86. The talked about addition of a third lane to the highway will further induce traffic growth and adverse effects. Only the substitution of a significant mass transit system for a portion of the traffic flow equivalent to that added by the cumulative projects will serve as true mitigation.

Orange County lost its Main Line train system in the 1970s, a loss that continues to haunt us. Creation of new, efficient high speed rail along the main line to Middletown must be the center piece of any strategy to mitigate these impacts.

We look forward to an opportunity to participate in the adjudication of these issues.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.
President