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Elmira-area reaction to casino, fracking decisions


A decision announced Wednesday to grant a full-fledged casino license for Seneca County, not Tioga Downs in Nichols, surprised and disappointed Southern Tier leaders.

Meanwhile, New York's decision to keep a ban on hydraulic fracturing delighted environmental advocates while elected leaders called it the wrong decision.

Tioga Downs

"We were all just very, very disappointed and saddened with the news," said Tioga County, N.Y., Legislative Chair Martha Sauerbrey, who watched a broadcast of the casino decision with Tioga Downs staff on a large-screen TV in the racino's conference room.

Granting a full-fledged casino license to Tioga Downs would have benefited the entire Twin Tiers economically, she said. "The fact that Lago was named, to me, that is not in the Southern Tier. I do think that Tioga Downs will continue on. They will continue to have gambling and horse racing, and definitely be an asset to this region."

Getting the license in Nichols would have meant a hotel, conference center and entertainment venue. "That would have created jobs, many more jobs," she said. "I have heard (Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural) say we will still survive, still move ahead, just not at the level we were hoping."

George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth, said announcements an hour apart on no fracking and the casino license was "like being punched in the mouth and kicked in the stomach."

"I had to search on the Internet to find where Tyre is ... I'm sure it's a lovely town, but it's nowhere near the Southern Tier," Miner said. "I don't see how there will be any positive impact from this casino on the Southern Tier — certainly not any jobs for Southern Tier residents, no new tax revenues," Miner said.

Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli said he was shocked that Tioga Downs did not get the casino license, because of the investment it has already made. "It's certainly a punch in the nose to the owner of Tioga Downs, who has invested a ton of money," Santulli said.

It is also a missed opportunity for business growth in the region due to increased visitors, he said. "They spend money on the way to wine country. They frequent restaurants. They go by three million square feet of shopping," Santulli said. "It would have been a really nice added piece to wine country, the glass museum, the tourism."

Combined with the ban on fracking, it was not a good day for the region, state Sen. Tom O'Mara, R-Big Flats, said.

"I strongly believed Jeff Gural and everyone at Tioga Downs put forth the most clear-cut proposal in keeping with the commission's stated goals to locate these casinos where they are most needed," O'Mara said. "A new and expanded Tioga Downs would have bolstered one of the state's weakest local economies, preserved important livelihoods for hundreds of workers, created new jobs, and generated badly needed revenue to provide additional support for education and local governments to help ease the burden on local property taxpayers."


Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, was among the region's elected leaders who were extremely disappointed with New York's fracking ban.

"This move effectively blocks the development of natural gas and oil resources in New York state," Reed said. "This is devastating news for the Southern Tier economy … This decision makes it even more difficult to replace the good jobs that have already left due to New York's unfriendly business climate.

"Once again Albany shows that it wants to enact an extreme liberal agenda rather than care about individual property rights and job opportunities," Reed said.

STEG's Miner said, "It's fairly obvious that today's decision was made years ago. Another four years of study is not going to change anything. With over 30 other states allowing fracking, there certainly is enough information available to understand the impacts, whether social, economic, or health wise."

Sauerbrey and Santulli both said their counties, and the region, would have benefited economically if fracking was allowed. Neither county had taken a position on fracking because it always was a state, not local, decision.

"I think the majority of people in Tioga County supported fracking because we have a lot of farmland. This was an opportunity to provide for their families," Sauerbrey said. "I am not surprised by the decision. I am glad it is done. I am tired of talking about it. Now we can move on."

Santulli said Chemung County had put a commission together several years ago to examine how fracking would have impacted the county. He said it involved working with police, fire departments and even speaking in Albany about the county's preparation, but the last couple of years have just been about waiting for a decision, he said.

Santulli said the county saw economic benefits firsthand because of the number of gas companies that located in the county while doing drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania, where it is permitted. "Chemung County has benefited from Pennsylvania fracking because of our interstate, rail and airport," he said, explaining the county led the state in room tax and sales tax growth in 2010 and 2011.

"Whether they stay here now is a chapter that hasn't been written yet," Santulli said of the gas and support industries still operating out of Chemung County.

Sandra Steingraber of Trumansburg, a distinguished scholar in biology at Ithaca College, said she was "thrilled" with New York's continued ban on fracking. She is among the activists who have been arrested and jailed for blockading the gates to Crestwood Midstream, which plans to expand methane gas storage in underground salt caverns in the Town of Reading, Schuyler County.

"Actually I heard the news while I was helping to oversee the civil disobedience movement of 29 arrests (Wednesday) at the gates of Crestwood Midstream," she said. "In one ear, I was listening to the proceedings from the cabinet in Albany while I was watching 29 residents led by local musicians be arrested for blockading the gates."

She said the state's decision, and reasoning for it, matched what many working in public health, like herself, have concluded.

"It's a complete victory, a wise decision. That is what the science shows," she said, adding the governor and the (health) commissioner both said troubling signs exist regarding fracking. "You don't place people in harm's way while the science goes on … you can't use people as guinea pigs."

She said she was at the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office when those arrested Wednesday were processed and released and first heard about the fracking decision.

"They picked up their instruments, banjos, guitars, and spontaneously burst into song. There was literally singing and dancing on the streets of Watkins Glen," she said.

Walter Hang, an Ithaca industrial-contamination activist and owner of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database, was equally enthusiastic about the state's decision.

"I am enthralled. This is a stupendous victory. It's the result of five years of unrelenting, hard work," Hang said.

It also took him by surprise, he said, based on tips and communications he had received prior to the announcement that said fracking would be banned statewide, but perhaps allowed on a limited or trial basis in the Southern Tier.

"This is just an incredible red letter day," Hang said. "It shows what concerned citizens can achieve when they are knowledgeable, sophisticated about these very complicated proceedings."