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Indians pull out of casino proposal

Brownsville's urban future still up in air

Saturday, April 27, 2002

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Leaders of a Canadian Indian organization have ended their involvement with a proposal to obtain land and build an elaborate casino gambling complex in Fayette County.

Members of the Six Nations of the Grand River Iroquois band council voted this week to break off efforts to build the complex in Brownsville's dilapidated business district along the Monongahela River. The elected council, which governs the Six Nations reserve in Brantford, Ontario, also ordered its appointed land-research officer, Phil Monture, to stop negotiating or doing anything to advance the project.

"It's not going any further, at least at this time," Six Nations spokesman David Moses said. "There is to be no more action taken on this plan at all."

With its action, council ended Monture's efforts to work with Brownsville landowners Ernest E. and Marilyn Liggett and others to develop a gambling center modeled after the sprawling Foxwoods Resort and Casino operated by Pequot Indians in Connecticut. Foxwoods claims to be the world's largest resort casino, drawing more than 40,000 people daily to its six casinos, bingo hall, 24 restaurants and landmark Grand Pequot Tower hotel.

The Liggetts, of Churchill, own more than 100 lots and buildings in Brownsville and negotiated with the Six Nations last year in an effort to establish gambling there. That proposal lost momentum last fall after it became public in Canada and the Six Nations elected a new chief and several council members.

The proposal resurfaced, however, when Monture, Ernest Liggett and Fayette County Republican Chairman Chris Sepesy met this month with Fayette County legislators to seek the lawmakers' support.

They also had planned to meet Monday with representatives from Gov. Mark Schweiker's staff, but postponed that meeting.

The extent of Monture's backing from current Six Nations leaders was never clear; Chief Roberta Jamieson and other officials initially denied involvement with the project and expressed surprise when told of the meetings scheduled with Pennsylvania officials.

Monture could not be reached for comment, but last week told the Tekawennake newspaper of Ohsweken, Ontario, that the Six Nations Council knew and approved of his efforts to pursue an economic-development proposal in Brownsville. Moses said yesterday that council is still investigating the matter but that it appears that Monture was acting on the direction of the previous council.

Jamieson, Six Nations Councilor David General and Finance Director Tom Darnay plan to come to Pennsylvania in the next few weeks to look at Brownsville and to determine if they can recoup any of the estimated $250,000 in Canadian dollars that the previous administration had spent on lobbying, legal fees and other expenses related to the project. Moses said he did not know when they planned to come and did not know how they planned to recoup that investment.

Brownsville Mayor Norma Ryan and other borough officials said they never were contacted from the Six Nations or the Liggetts about the casino proposal, so they lacked information to consider if it would have been good or bad for the town.

The Liggetts did not return calls last week, leaving it uncertain if they plan to seek another Indian group's participation or to find other uses for their properties.

Pennsylvania does not permit casino gambling. To circumvent that ban, the Six Nations would have had to obtain federal and state recognition, obtain federal approval of their land claim and obtain the governor's permission.

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