Former Gov. George Pataki today said he opposes a massive casino at the Sterling Forest in Orange County — property he worked to preserve during his three terms as governor.
Genting Inc., the Malaysian-based gaming giant, has proposed a $1.5 billion casino at the site, the largest of the 16 proposals seeking one of four casino licenses from the state.
“In spite of a vigorous public relation’s effort to portray the project as environmentally benign, (or, incredibly, as environmentally beneficial!), I have grave concerns that this project and its projected 7 million visitors would wreak havoc on Sterling Forest,” Pataki said in a statement obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.
Since 1995, Pataki has been a champion of preserving the property, which is just 41 miles from Manhattan. In an op-ed piece in 1995, Pataki called the land “a 17,500-acre environmental treasure.”
He fought to preserve it from development, and in 1998 he put together a package with the federal government and New Jersey to buy the property for $55 million, saying he had hiked the property as a child.
Pataki, the Republican governor between 1995 and 2006, has been credited with a strong environmental record during his tenure, and the purchase of Sterling Forest on the New York-New Jersey border was the largest acquisition by the state parks system in 50 years.
A spokesman said Pataki has no financial interest or stake in any of the casino projects. There was no immediate comment from Genting.
The state is expected to decide before year’s end which casino proposals will get a state license. Among the 16 proposals, six are in Orange County — the closest to New York City.
Here’s Pataki’s full statement.
“Throughout my 12 years as governor, one of my highest priorities was the preservation of open space and New York’s unique natural treasures. Working with environmental groups, federal, state and local leaders we protected over million acres for the enjoyment of future generations. One of the earliest and most important priorities of my administration was the protection of Sterling Forest.
“In 1998, President Clinton, Speaker Gingrich, Governor Whitman, and a variety of public and private organizations joined with the State in an historic agreement to create the Sterling Forest State Park. Protecting Sterling Forest was an incredibly important achievement as the park locks and binds the Highland Region, secures drinking water for millions, and provides a vast wild habitat only an hour’s fast drive from New York City.
“Now the integrity of this achievement is threatened by a bid from Genting Americas to build a casino resort in the middle of Sterling Forest State Park. In spite of a vigorous public relation’s effort to portray the project as environmentally benign, (or, incredibly, as environmentally beneficial!), I have grave concerns that this project and its projected 7 million visitors would wreak havoc on Sterling Forest.
“A license granted to a casino in Sterling Forest would undo the bipartisan efforts that created Sterling Forest and most importantly create an unacceptable risk to New York and New Jersey’s drinking water. As I wrote in 1995, ‘the potential destruction of a watershed and outdoor recreational area for some 26 million people who live within two hours of Sterling Forest is much too high a price.’ The argument is the same today. No amount of tax revenue, licensing fees or pledges of community support can offset the risks this project poses to our state.”