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Letter to the Editor: Resident Addresses Concerns Over Howe Caverns Casino

Written By Editor on 7/13/14 | 7/13/14

Dear Editor:
The non-profit Center for Sustainable Rural Communities does not oppose casino development nor does it oppose the siting of a casino in Schoharie County. While we would prefer the allocation of resources for the revitalization of Schoharie County’s downtowns and other projects that would better enhance the quality of life in our rural communities, we understand the critical need for job creation, the failure thus far of tourism initiatives and the plurality of support for a casino by County residents. That being said, we are concerned about both the viability and impacts of the Howe Caverns proposal and the choice of development partners.
While Howe Caverns representatives sound optimistic when they discuss their chances for approval, the reality is that other applicants may be more favorably positioned because of better vetted and funded partners, proximity to interstate rail lines, airports, existing infrastructure, lodging and other amenities. Additionally, Howe Caverns representatives persist in making inaccurate statements about completed environmental reviews (SEQRA) that purport to underscore the site’s “shovel ready” status but actually cast doubt on the developer’s understanding of the regulatory process and their truthfulness. In short, an environmental review can only be completed for a specific project whose phases, scope, footprint and operating conditions have been clearly defined in a documented site plan. That has not happened and a legitimate and defensible environmental review for a casino project has not been completed despite claims to the contrary by Howe Caverns. Repeating the false assertion that a potentially massive development project has gained environmental approval before it has been fully defined and reviewed does little to support Howe Cavern’s credibility or its chances of gaining a casino license.
Disclosures by Schoharie News that Howe Cavern’s partner in the proposed casino project has a record of financial irregularities, fines, association with a Ponzi scheme and sentencing for domestic violence does little to instill confidence in an application that must be scrutinized and approved by a State Gaming Commission which is highly sensitive to even the appearance of criminality, unethical behavior and/or financial shenanigans.
The recent knee-jerk vote by the Schoharie County Board of Supervisor’s to support a casino proposal without conducting a cultural and economic impact analysis and without full knowledge of the people involved is disheartening. Blog posts by County residents insisting that we should ignore the developer’s troubling history because we are desperate for jobs and a recent editorial in the Times-Journal that infers that the “OK” of a powerful local businessman trumps the disturbing reports of criminal activity, are also disheartening.

What is most disturbing is the potential for a County that has suffered through devastating natural disasters, protracted economic hardship and previous exploitation by unscrupulous developers may yet again face the emotional roller-coaster that comes with the belief in of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that does not exist. There is the potential that when the initial excitement of a proposed casino fades we will have a much clearer view of the hidden costs to a community of ill-conceived plans, false statements and questionable participants. We hope that in the end, the Gaming Commission, local officials and the public make the best decision possible.

Bob Nied
Board of Directors
Center for Sustainable Rural Communities
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