Wednesday, November 22, 1995, Vol. 109, No. 36

11/22 Env focus Conservation Group Steps up Lawsuit Over Corps' Casino Permitting The Daily News Attorneys for an environmental group last week notified the U.S. Justice Department that it intends to take depositions of former district engineer Col. Theodore Fox III and other key employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Memphis office as part of its lawsuit claiming violations of environmental laws in permitting casino construction in Tunica County. The Mississippi River Coalition (MRC), a nonprofit conservation organization, filed suit against the corps earlier this year, alleging the corps violated provisions of the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Protection Act in issuing approximately 20 permits to dredge or fill wetlands for Tunica casinos. Federal Judge Julia Gibbons earlier this month denied a motion by the U.S. Justice Department to limit discovery in the case to documents in the corps files and issued an order allowing the MRC to take depositions and introduce expert testimony as evidence in the case. Charles F. Newman and Doug Halijan, attorneys for the MRC, last week issued official notice to take the deposition of Fox, the head of the corps' Memphis office when most of the casino permits were issued. Fox now is a public works administrator for Shelby County. The MRC attorneys also issued notices to U.S. Justice Department attorneys to take depositions of employees in the corps regulatory functions department, including Tim Flinn, Tom Skelton and department head Larry Watson. Flinn and Skelton are staff members who were responsible for gathering information from casinos and their representatives and for compiling assessments of the environmental impacts caused by construction of casinos and related facilities such as parking lots, roads and hotels. The MRC's lawsuit alleges that the corps failed to require casino developers to come up with project plans that would have caused less damage to the environment. It also alleges that the corps should have performed a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to detail the effects of all Tunica County casinos as a whole. The suit asks the judge to rule that the corps issued the permits illegally and to require the corps to perform an EIS. The corps has denied any wrongdoing in the case, claiming that it has performed its duty within the letter of the laws and regulations. According to corps documents, approximately 100 acres of wetlands have been filled or dredged for Tunica County casinos and roads since 1991. Before the closure of the cluster of casinos at Mhoon Landing, current and planned casino development had encompassed more than 5,000 acres of land along the river. The latest corps permitting activity includes a permit for Bally's to move its barge from Mhoon Landing to the Robinsonville area in May and a new permit request from Fitzgerald's to construct a mooring dock for riverboats at its Robinsonville site.