July 5, 2008

Judge Upholds Sale of Land for Casino

By Matt Gryta

State Supreme Court Justice Joseph G. Makowski on Thursday upheld Buffalo's sale of a two-block portion of Fulton Street to the Seneca Nation of Indians against a challenge on environmental grounds.

With a crucial federal court ruling days away on the issue of whether the Senecas can legally operate a gaming facility on the nine acres it acquired from the city, Makowski ruled the Common Council took the mandated "hard look" at all environmental issues linked to the project. In a 62-page decision, he dismissed the environmental-law challenge.

Robert E. Knoer, one of the chief attorneys for the casino opponents, said an appeal of Makowski's ruling is very likely.

"While we are disappointed with this ruling, there are lawful mechanisms [appellate courts] for correcting it and we remain optimistic that our case will ultimately prevail to the benefit of Buffalo and its citizens," Knoer said.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny is slated to rule Tuesday on whether the Senecas have a legal right to operate a casino on the downtown Buffalo land they acquired two years ago.

Knoer said Makowski's ruling on environmental issues "if allowed to stand, limits the ability of the City of Buffalo to protect the health and safety of its citizens and visitors."

He added that even if Skretny blocks gambling on the site, the Senecas could go ahead with any other commercial venture they choose if Makowski's ruling on the environmental challenge stands.

Makowski dismissed the final state court challenge to the casino project, ruling the Council "has fully complied" with all applicable state and local environmental review mandates.

Refering to the casino already operating in Niagara Falls, Knoer said he fears the same lack of development "is going to happen here" unless the Buffalo casino is halted.

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Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

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