Schoharie County

Howe Caverns environmental review questioned

A member of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities and a resident of the town of Cobleskill co

Howe Caverns’ owners completed a state Environmental Quality Review Act investigation in 2011 for the 330-acre parcel where a theme park now stands.

Now, the principals of the Schoharie County attraction are looking to build a gambling hall and two hotels on the property. The would-be developers of the casino boast theirs is the only proposal in the region that has completed the lengthy SEQRA process.

But Bob Nied, a member of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities and a resident of the town of Cobleskill, contends that a new review must be completed if Howe Caverns Casino and Resort plans to add new buildings to the parcel.

The resort proposal includes a casino with two 250-room hotels, two water parks (one indoor, one outdoor) and several restaurants.

Howe Caverns is already a major tourist destination, with nearly 200,000 visitors each year.

Nied says the environmental review process is not complete and that the casino developers have been misleading the public.

In a letter to The Daily Gazette, he said he used a Freedom of Information request to gather documents from the town pertaining to the casino expansion.

Nied wrote: “The town responded today by saying that no such materials exist, indicating that the SEQRA review has not been completed for this project, only for a caverns facility extension proposed back in 2011. It appears that a review has not been completed specific to the casino, as is required under SEQRA before the project could be approved and construction begins. The SEQRA completed for the 2011 caverns expansion proposal is not the same as the assessment required for the casino. To suggest otherwise is misleading.”

Ryan Moses, a spokesman for Howe Caverns Casino and Resort, said the review is complete and the casino developers maintain that they do not need to go through the process again.

“One single amendment needs to be made to our Planned District Development, which is not part of SEQRA,” Moses said. “We will have more visitors to the site if we are awarded a license and a new traffic mitigation study must be completed. We are not misleading the public.”

“Howe Caverns will be the fastest project to market. We have a completed SEQRA and we are fit with water and sewer already. As soon as the state awards the license, we will be ready to go.”

Officials at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency in charge of the SEQRA process, say once a parcel has been reviewed they are not involved in approving new additions to the property. That is left to the lead agency, they say, which in this case is the town of Cobleskill.

Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister said the town will work cooperatively with the casino developers to iron out any problems that may arise.

“I don’t foresee the traffic-mitigation study being a problem,” he said.

On Wednesday, Nied said he thinks the scope of the casino project requires a new review to be completed.

“The project has changed significantly since 2011 when the theme park was built,” he said, adding that the changes are significant and large in scope. “They must take another look at the environmental impacts a casino would have on the community.”

The state Gaming Facility Location Board is close to making a decision on where to place four casinos in upstate New York.

Howe Caverns Resort and Casino is among four casinos that are being proposed in the Capital Region. The other three are Thompson Hill in East Greenbush, de Laet’s Landing in Rensselaer and the former Alco site in Schenectady.

The board is set to meet at 1 p.m. Friday at Hofstra University. Board Chairman Kevin Law said in a letter Tuesday that an announcement on casinos will be made at the following meeting.

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