NY Judge Nixes Residents’ Efforts To Halt Finger Lakes Casino
Posted on July 14th, 2016
Los Angeles (February 1, 2016, 11:13 PM ET) — A New York state judge on Friday denied efforts by residents living near the Finger Lakes to halt developers’ construction of the Lago Resort & Casino, ruling the town of Tyre didn’t ignore environmental laws by allowing the project to move forward.
Judge W. Patrick Falvey denied requests by Casino Free Tyre to annul and vacate the town board’s decision, despite the community group’s allegations that the board overlooked negative environmental impacts from the project in Seneca County.
Casino Free Tyre claims the board members were biased toward the casino project and didn’t require Wilmot Gaming LLC and PGP Investors LLC to draft an environmental impact statement. The board members say they didn’t commit any ethics violations in completing the review as required by New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Casino Free Tyre said town officials didn’t properly consider how the project would affect the surrounding community, but Judge Falvey disagreed on Friday.
“To the extent that mitigation measures in the [community mitigation plan] also involve SEQRA issues, such issues were properly addressed by the town and given the required ‘hard look’ during the SEQRA process,” the memorandum-decision, order and judgment said.
Lago Resort & Casino Co-Chairmen Thomas C. Wilmot Sr. and Brent Stevens said in a Monday statement that they were pleased with the decision.
“Two weeks ago, we had a great day as we had hundreds of Tyre and Seneca County supporters sign the first beam that will built into Lago,” Stevens said. “Today is another great day as the court determined that our handful of opponents have another losing argument.”
The casino and resort will feature “a gorgeous premium hotel, state-of-the-art spa, outstanding, locally inspired culinary options and a tasteful, bustling casino,” according to its website. It will supposedly attract more than 3 million visitors annually and employ more than 1,000 local residents.
Casino Free Tyre’s website claims Wilmot initially approached the town about the development in November 2013. The group says Wilmot’s influence over the town and project was demonstrated by the board’s “flagrant” violation of its duties under SEQRA.
The project will create “a massive, Las Vegas-style casino that will forever change the character of our small rural town,” according to the website.
In June 2014, town officials issued their first declaration claiming the project wouldn’t have any major impacts on the environment, according to Casino Free Tyre.
A New York state court upheld the town’s SEQRA determination, after which Casino Free Tyre successfully appealed, court papers said. A state appeals court determined that town officials failed to sufficiently explain their decision and thus reversed the instant court’s judgment.
After the reversal — which town officials are still fighting in appeals court — the town decided to take a second SEQRA review, which was at issue in Friday’s decision.
In the instant suit, Casino Free Tyre pointed to an email from Supervisor Ronald F. McGreevey to Wilmot’s attorney expressing support for the casino, as well as developers’ alleged attempts to convince McGreevey to block some public comments.
Judge Falvey on Friday said the town board’s measure would have passed without McGreevey’s vote and that the speed by which the town completed the SEQRA process was insufficient proof of bias.
The project is due to be completed this year, according to the website for the casino and resort.
The project is one of three casino applications that the Gaming Facility Location Board recommended to the New York State Gaming Commission. The Oneida Indian Nation urged the commission to block the project, saying not only was the developer’s application inadequate, but that the casino would cause serious harm to the Oneida Nation.
An attorney for the town of Tyre declined to comment Monday. Attorneys for Casino Free Tyre didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.
Casino Free Tyre is represented by Arthur W. Wentlandt of MacKenzie Hughes LLP and Daniel F. Katz of William & Connolly LLP.
The town of Tyre is represented by Thomas Smith and Virginia Robbins of Bond Schoeneck & King, and Mark A. Chertok and Elizabeth Knauer of Sive Paget & Riesel PC.
Lago’s developers are represented by John Mancuso of Harris Beach PLLC and Mark Holscher of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
The case is Casino Free Tyre by its President James Dawley III et al. v. Town Board of Town of Tyre et al., index number 49749, in the State of New York Supreme Court for the County of Seneca.
–Additional reporting by Benjamin Horney and Daniel Wilson. Editing by Catherine Sum.