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Cleric in lawsuit fears effect of city casino

The Rev. Keith H. Scott ministers to a population that is crushingly poor, overwhelmingly African-American and near the site for a Buffalo casino. Scott fears putting a casino in their midst will bring false hopes and social ills to lives already in crisis.

"All across the country, the surrounding communities [near casinos] are devastated with increased crime, poverty and prostitution," said Scott. "These things concern me because there is a battle with crime already in this community."

Scott is one of five residents and business people, neighbors of the proposed Buffalo Seneca Creek Casino on Michigan Avenue, who -- with attorneys for Citizens for a Better Buffalo -- filed a lawsuit Wednesday in State Supreme Court. The petition will be heard by Judge Joseph G. Makowski in early April.

The lawsuit charges Gov. George E. Pataki, Mayor Byron W. Brown, former Mayor Anthony Masiello, the Common Council, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and other agencies with failing to comply with state and city laws that mandate public input and scrutiny when siting large developments.

Seneca Nation officials could not be reached for comment.

"This was -- make no mistake about it -- a concept born in Albany, by Albany, for Albany," said attorney Robert E. Knoer. "At no time has anyone asked the residents, 'What do you think?' "

The lawsuit specifically cites violations of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the state's Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law and the City of Buffalo Environmental Review Ordinance.

The suit also charges that the state Department of Environmental Conservation ignored its own policy on environmental justice, which requires particular attention to impoverished areas that have historically been used as dumping grounds for undesireable developments.

Gabrielle DeMarco, a DEC spokeswoman, said the department's policy on the permit review process of large developments is aimed at helping the applicant "develop an enhanced public participation plan" so citizens can be informed and involved in the review process.

Thomas D. Lunt, a trustee of the Margaret E. Wendt Foundation, said the foundation felt compelled to support the lawsuit and stop a casino it believes will cause great harm to Buffalo.

"We decided someone had to give a voice to those who can't afford it. People with $10,000 incomes can't hire the legal help that's needed," Lunt said.

Citizens for a Better Buffalo filed a suit Jan. 3 in U.S. District Court, charging the federal government with failing to properly apply laws that govern the approval process for gambling activities on Indian lands.

"It's unfortunate the burden has now fallen to the residents in this area to stand up and ask that their voices be heard," Knoer said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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