“The ruling in our favor was a ruling that vacated all six of the resolutions passed (by the town of Tyre),” said Desiree Dawley. The Dawleys, who live next door to the parcel where Lago Resort and Casino is planning to build a casino, near Rt. 414 and the state thruway, I90, are part of Casino Free Tyre, a citizens’ group suing to stop the casino.
On July 10, the second circuit court ruled that the town of Tyre improperly granted the site permit to the Lago Resort last year, because the SEQR – state environmental quality review- was not passed during the site plan review. An appeals court judge had ruled that Tyre had issued the permit to build the casino properly, but the second circuit court did not agree and reversed that ruling.
“This ruling shows we were right all along, and they were breaking the law,” said Dawley.
Casino Free Tyre has continued to update its website and Facebook page with pictures of construction vehicles going in and out of the site, and drone pictures of the site showing that work has continued despite the court’s ruling.
“Tom Wilmot said he was stopping, but this doesn’t look like he’s stopping,” said Dawley. Thomas Wilmot Sr. is the managing director of the project.
However, Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Lago Resorts, said they couldn’t just shut down the construction by stopping the trucks. Greenberg said the work apparently going on there is the process of closing down the site. “We are complying with the DEC,” said Greenberg. “Obviously, we had hoped to continue construction, but we will follow what the town of Tyre does. We are complying with the SPDES (state pollutant discharge elimination) permit.”
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the DEC issues regulations related to SEQR, but “DEC has no authority to review the implementation of SEQR by other agencies… If an agency makes an improper decision or allows a project that is subject to SEQR to start, and fails to undertake a proper review, citizens or groups who can demonstrate that they may be harmed by this failure may take legal action against the agency under Article 78 of the New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules. Project approvals may be rescinded by a court and a new review required under SEQR.” Casino Free Tyre has tried two lawsuits, but the group lacks deep pockets. This Article 78 proceeding about the SEQR process is the second one; an earlier suit was not successful. Dawley said that, as she reads the ruling, because the court determined the project was out of compliance, it was not looking at the suit’s other contentions about the environmental review. “In light of our determination, we do not address petitioners’ remaining contentions,” wrote the court.
Fewer than 1000 residents live in Tyre, which encompasses a little more than 33 square miles and includes part of the Montezuma wetlands. Amish and Mennonite farmers, part of an influx in the past decades, have added their voices to the protest against the casino, saying it will disrupt their way of life. While Lagos has said it is complying with the DEC, the DEC only issues regulations; according to the DEC website, there are no “SEQR police.”
In this case, the agency which “enforces” SEQR is the state gaming commission facility location board, which granted Lagos one of four casino licenses set aside for upstate New York. “In order to get a casino license,” said Greenberg, “the applicant has to have SEQR compliance.” Greenberg said the ruling effectively stops progress on the site.
Dawley said that the district court ruling negates all of the town’s resolutions allowing the facility, as well as the Host Community Agreement required by the gaming facility location board.
In the Host Community Agreement, the casino acknowledges that a survey of Tyre residents and the Comprehensive Plan for the town placed a high value on keeping Tyre agricultural (the whole town is an Ag. District) and so, Lagos/Wilmorite agreed to pay the town $600,000 over six years, as well as reimbursing the town for infrastructure costs.
“They’re willing to change the entire landscape, history and character of the town for this money,” said Dawley. She said the photos indicate that work on the site is far more than just shutting it down: “It is clear that ... massive amounts of parking lot have been paved including conduit laying for electric wires... Wilmot is building on what is now, court ruled, Agricultural land, and nothing in these photos looks like soybeans!”