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BIA to take off-rez land into trust for Mohawks

MONTICELLO, N.Y. - The BIA will take a 66-acre parcel of land into trust, allowing the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to proceed with plans to open a casino resort near this Catskill mountain town.

According to a notice published Oct. 6 in the Federal Register, the tribe still must clear yet another hurdle; it must prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed casino resort. Although the tribe submitted an environmental assessment in December 2002, project changes since that time require a more comprehensive impact statement said Aurene Martin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, in the notice.

A public-comment meeting was scheduled for Oct. 8; written comments to BIA are due by Oct. 15. Furthermore, a draft of the impact statement is to be completed by Nov. 1 and will be available for public review and comment for 45 days after its publication in the Federal Register. Completion of the final statement is expected by Jan. 15, 2004 and it will be available for public comment for 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register. BIA's final decision on the proposed casino resort is slated for March 1, 2004.

The tribe has partnered with Park Place Entertainment Corp., a Las Vegas-based casino operating company to build the "Mohawk Mountain Resort and Casino" on the east side of Anawana Lake Road (County Route 103) in the Town of Thompson, Sullivan County, approximately three miles north of Monticello.

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Park Place, operator of casinos and hotels in Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi, has 27 properties with approximately 29,000 rooms and more than two million square feet of gaming space.

As designed, the project includes a 450,000-square-foot casino, a 750-room hotel, a 2,000-seat theater and several restaurants on the 66-acre plot, with a 5,040-space parking garage on an adjacent parcel of 141 acres.

The tribe's above-mentioned environmental assessment will be taken into account during the preparation of the impact statement. The project is also under review pursuant to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act; comments from these hearings will be considered. Issues raised in the Oct. 8 meeting and in written comments submitted to BIA will also receive consideration.

Issues to be addressed in the EIS will include (but are not limited to) the following: traffic, noise, water supply and quality, wetlands, wildlife, sewage disposal, land use and community character, socio-economic impacts, air quality, overall cumulative effects, and alternatives to the proposal.

This casino would be the first of three Indian casinos authorized for the region under state legislation passed in October 2002. Other tribes in contention for the two remaining Catskill casinos reportedly include the Oneida Nation of New York, the Cayuga Nation of New York, the Seneca Nation (which already has one casino and the rights to two others in Western New York) and the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.