AKWESASNE, NY - The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has sued the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, for rejecting their a proposal to build a casino at the Monticello Raceway.
The tribe planned a $600 million project to build a 766,000 square foot casino resort with 3,500 slot machines, 125 table games, 24 poker tables, restaurants, nightlife entertainment facilities and retail stores. Their proposal was rejected earlier this month by the Interior Department which announced a new criteria based on commuting distance from the reservation to the casino. The distance from the Mohawk reservation to Monticello is 350 miles, which the department said would force tribal member to move off the reservation to work at the new casino.
The lawsuit was filed in New York District Court on January 10th claiming the new rules violate the Administrative Procedure Act which requires consultation with the tribe and provides a comment period. The lawsuit also claims Secretary Kempthorne used personal bias against the tribe with his outspoken opposition to off-reservation casinos.
Tribal Chief Lorraine White said ''The secretary decided to simply rewrite the law in his own way, without consulting Congress. What we have here is a secretary who has attempted to devise a way to circumvent federal law by creating new federal guidelines for existing fee-to-trust applications. The problem is that his decision is based on new rules which hop-scotched straight over the required tribal consultation process and never bothered to give proper notice. Beyond this, we feel his decision failed to consider the very strengths and merits of our application and the administrative record.''
''We realize that the secretary has what they call 'discretionary authority,''' Tribal Chief Barbara Lazore said. ''But does that mean absolute and unfettered authority to make unjust, far-reaching and discriminatory decisions? The secretary is a public servant, charged with the responsibility to faithfully execute the law.''
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