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Amish speak out on proposed Wilmorite casino

by Jane Flasch

Penn Yan, N.Y. -- Their presence in a court they don't necessarily believe in was startling. More than a dozen Amish men left a Yates County Court proceeding Wednesday then agreed to speak out publicly on a proposed casino.

They chose Lynn Barbuto as their spokesman.

"They could not imagine staying here with a casino," she said.

Seventy percent of the population of the town of Tyre is members of the Amish and Mennonite communities. They pay taxes, but their religious beliefs prevent them from voting or getting involved in political issues.

"For them to show up at town meetings and in court, as peaceful and gentle as they are, this is out of their comfort zone," said Barbuto.

But she said they are fighting for their way of life. Wilmorite has applied for a state license to build a $350 million dollar casino just off the Thruway in Seneca County. Its front entrance will sit across the street from the farm owned by the leader of the Amish community.

The roads are expected to handle traffic of up to 9,000 cars a day.

"The transportation that is legal for them in New York state is the horse and buggy. That has never been brought into the transportation studies," said Barbuto. "They fear for their lives; they fear for their livestock."

The proposed site is in the heart of farmland. Later this month, the town board is expected to vote for a zoning change that would allow a floating commercial district. Critics said Wilmorite provided lawyers and engineers to the town to come up with the concept and paid all of the bills.

"To say this is for anyone but the developer to me is laughable," said attorney Mario Fratto.

He argued the changes already approved by the zoning board should be voided. He is also asking a judge to open up the process to see what other influence the developer had on the board.

"There's nothing but lies and lies that were spun until they finally got what they wanted," he said.

Attorney H. Todd Bullard argued the complaint lacks a legal basis to proceed and language in it is inflammatory. He said the members of the community filing suit have not been harmed in any way because at this juncture a casino license has not been issued and there is no guarantee it will be built.

James and Desiree Dawley see it differently. They own farmland adjacent to the proposed site, which one day may house 2,000 slot machines, 100 gambling tables and a 200-room hotel.

"It was a steamroll," said James.

"There are a lot of questions about fairness and how big developers can come into an area like this, and think we're just a bunch of country people that are not even highly educated and they can come in and run the show," Desiree said.

Acting State Supreme Court Judge W. Patrick Falvey is expected to issue a ruling on a later date but indicated in court that it would likely be before the board vote, scheduled for May 15.

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Washington Times