Others from the town are visiting with members of the Penobscot Nation.

A task force seeking to gauge the impact of a proposed $650 million resort and casino in Sanford, Maine, began a two-day fact-finding mission Monday that includes meetings with town officials and casino operators in eastern Connecticut.

The Sanford Citizens Casino Advisory Task Force was visiting the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos to better understand how the proposal by the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes would affect their southern Maine town.

Joel Patterson said hotel workers had mixed reviews about living near a casino. One hotel worker said the casino had been good for business; a waitress said business declined after the casinos were built.

“The only way you’re going to learn a lot is talk to people on the street,” Patterson said.

The eight-member panel planned to meet with officials from Ledyard, Preston, North Stonington and Montville as well as business owners and chamber of commerce representatives.

The task force also will tour the two casinos. Foxwoods is owned by the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan Sun by the Mohegan tribe.

Accompanying the panel as an observer was Sanford Fire Chief Raymond Parent. Town Administrator Tom Ursia said Parent is expected to speak to area fire officials about the impact of having a casino in the community.

Mainers will vote Nov. 4 whether to allow the two Maine tribes to operate a casino in southern Maine.

Sanford was the only municipality in the region to vote in favor of a casino and the tribes have taken an option on 360 acres in south Sanford as a site for the project.

Ursia said the two Connecticut casinos are larger than the proposed Two Tribes Resort in Sanford. He said the perspective of the municipal officers would be the most helpful part of the trip, which continues through Tuesday afternoon.

Panel members learned at a meeting late Sunday that their request for additional time to report their findings was not approved.

Teri Grover, who chairs the task force, said the Sanford Board of Selectmen expects a final report from the group on Oct. 21, the original due date.

While the task force headed to Connecticut on Sunday, other Sanford residents traveled north to spend the day with members of the Penobscot Nation on Indian Island.

Erin Lehane, campaign manager for the pro-casino group Think About It, met with some of the visitors at the annual Penobscot Day gathering.

“I’m hopeful that people kind of take away what the spirit of this community is, she said.

Tribal representatives said the were pushing the casino project to reduce their dependence on government and ensure the survival of their cultural heritage.

The visitors talked with Indian Island residents and took in canoe races on the Penobscot River and drumming groups performing Indian songs.

Some of the visitors, many of whom live along the route where the tribes hope to build, described themselves as casino supporters.

Linda Randazzo said the project could help bring business to the area year-round.

“Its good for (the Penobscots) and I think its good for us,” she said.

Claudia Byard, 59, said she was unsure about how she would vote in November, but was putting her faith in the town to handle the proposal.

“I’m just hoping the town of Sanford will do it in the correct way,” she said.

AP-ES-08-18-03 1246EDT

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