Mohawk Mountain Casino 20061017
DATE: October 17, 2006
CONTACT: Michael R. Edelstein, President
PHONE: (845) 294-0751
PO BOX 25, GOSHEN, NY 10924-0025
Orange Environment’s Comments on the Final Environmental Assessment for the Mohawk Raceway Casino
Orange Environment (OEI) has been working on environmental issues in Orange County, NY since 1982. OEI is an interested party with regard to the Mohawk Raceway Casino application in Sullivan County, NY and concerned about its impacts on Orange County. The Mohawk’s Environmental Assessment (EA) completely fails to take into account impacts to Orange County due to traffic on the Rt. 17 (I-86) corridor and on radiating traffic on other Orange County roads, as well as air pollution impacts and other adverse consequences. Because more than ample evidence exists to authenticate such impacts, a Full Environmental Impact Statement is now necessary before a decision to grant the application can be reached in this matter. On Friday, October 12, 2006, Orange Environment sent the following comments to Kurt G. Chandler, Regional Environmental Scientist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Orange Environment deplores the Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) decision to proceed with an Environmental Assessment for a project that clearly required a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the start and for which other comparable casino projects in Sullivan County required a full EIS. In Orange Environment’s responses to previous BIA EIS documents for Sullivan County tribal casinos, including documents prepared by this applicant, we have consistently raised adverse impacts to Orange County, New York. Despite this consistency, the Raceway EA fails to address these impacts at all. It is clear that the applicant has deliberately avoided topics in its review that would demonstrate significant adverse effects and are hard to mitigate and therefore threatening to the project. This violation of the spirit and rule of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in itself demands redress. The BIA cannot allow itself to become complicit in this abrogation of NEPA! The BIA avows that its mission is to address impacts to native clients of the agency (Franklin Keel to Edelstein, March 18, 2005, re the Stockbridge Munsee DEIS). This view entails a confusion of the agency mission, on one hand, with its obligations under NEPA, on the other. In meeting its NEPA obligations, the agency is clearly obligated to assess potentially significant adverse impacts to other communities and to the environment, as well.
Issue 1: Traffic Leading to Sullivan County: October 9, 2006 marked yet another tragic automobile accident on the R. 17 corridor in Orange County with resulting delays of four or more hours on Rt. 17. An analysis of the pattern of accident delays is required because it is clear that the Rt. 17 corridor is over capacity currently for the part of the week that most corresponds to anticipated casino traffic and it is vulnerable to total shutdowns due to accidents at all times. Moreover, as we have repeatedly reconfirmed over the past two years, Rt 17 shutdowns radiate not only to secondary and tertiary roads throughout the region, shutting all mobility down. Even one casino will generate significant adverse effects, as the current EA demonstrates with its own modest estimate of 8,344 daily and 9,460 Sunday patrons. 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 a series of confirmatory analyses undertaken for the Natural Resource Defense Council. The Town of Montgomery has developed a traffic impact study for casino traffic on the Rt. 17K corridor. Visit OE at www.orangeenvironment.org for more traffic comments and OE’s full October 12th letter to the BIA.
Issue 2: Air Pollution and Environmental Health: Our Second concern involves the fact that traffic and particularly congested traffic brings with it air pollution. And Orange County already is out of compliance with the Clean Air Act for at least two National Ambient Air Quality Standards, ozone and particulate matter. These are not abstract issues. Although Orange County is not substantively mentioned in the EA or in Appendix L on traffic or the two appendices that make reference to Air Quality issues, a table listing NAAQS violations (1.1-15) does annotate the fact that Orange County is out of compliance for ozone, particulate matter and also CO, but the significance of this fact is never discussed in the text. Ozone 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. 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 holes, tropospheric ozone renders the outdoors toxic. Particulate matter lodges in the lungs and may be associated with various diseases, including cancers. Stalled traffic will also create local excesses of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other air pollutants.
Issue 3: Other Impacts: 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), community costs and resulting need to increase taxation, affect on volunteer fire and ambulance organizations, etc., all must be fully assessed and considered. The sociological, psychological and criminal justice literatures are rich in their treatment of gambling and the secondary social consequences, including criminality, addiction, etc. these impacts will affect residents of Orange County, as well as those of Sullivan, and possibly others as well. Issues of housing adequacy are also not addressed. In a previous DEIS by the Stockbridge-Munsee, the need for housing for casino personnel was projected to be absorbed by Orange County rentals. In fact, the Orange County rental market is saturated.
Issue 4: Mitigation: It is incumbent on the applicant to address the potential for mitigating these significant adverse impacts. In the context of the Keel letter cited above, the BIA cannot step away from its obligation to assure that adverse impacts associated with this project are fully mitigated before approving the project. It is not sufficient to expect that payments by the tribes to New York State are intended to be used for mitigation, that they will be sufficient to mitigate impacts, and that these funds will in fact be used to mitigate adverse casino impacts. No state reimbursements to Orange County are currently planned and, in any case, such payments would be unlikely to mitigate the particular kinds of impacts that are of concern. Regardless of any payments to the state, the BIA is obligated to assure that mitigatory steps are in place before issuing permits or as a permit condition. The agency cannot rely on unspecified payments going into unspecified funds to address unspecified impacts. That is a mockery of NEPA. An alternative or additional approach for adding Rt 17 capacity is by reducing current traffic streams using the highway. The restoration of the Mainline Rail Line and service in Orange County is a way to achieve this reduction while addressing air pollution. Mass transit such as a rail connection along the Rt. 17 corridor might divert significant commuter traffic from Rt. 17, creating more capacity, and, if connection is made to Monticello, may further allow casinos to avoid traffic on a major scale. 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.
Issue 5: Cumulative and other Impacts: NEPA requires that long term as well as short term impacts, induced growth and cumulative impacts be considered. These obligations have not been fulfilled. Multiple casino projects have been proposed for Sullivan County. The EA acknowledges two others beyond the Raceway project, reflecting New York legislative approvals. Other major changes have or will occur that will affect impacts of traffic and air pollution, and the other impacts discussed. Beyond casino applications, obvious cumulative effects include induced and other growth reaching build-out in the Sullivan County area, the new Bethel Woods Art Center, the I-86 conversion, the Orange County growth dynamic and gambling and other development in adjacent areas of Pennsylvania. These cumulative impacts are ignored here even though there are ample growth issues affecting cumulative traffic and air pollution and demand on other services. The applicant had a responsibility, unfulfilled, to examine these impacts.
Conclusion: It is already clear that this EA fails to address the highlighted issues of concern. But what is astounding is that, given the consistency with which Orange Environment and others have raised impacts to Orange County, they are not even mentioned in the EA. In fact, it is of note that the EA fails to make use of studies discussed, cited and submitted in conjunction with other casino applications, including for this applicant, or readily available through the planning department of Orange and Rockland counties and from NRDC. One ample documentation of traffic impact has been produced by Sam Scwartz for NRDC and submitted to BIA previously and in conjunction with comments on this application. Likewise, the Orange County Department of Planning has made reference to its many traffic studies in previous submissions and will reference these in their current comments. In sum, the EA 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.