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No Casino grills county board

A1: Casino

By RAELYNN GILL

Members of the No-Casino Committee laid their cards on the table at Monday's meeting of the Hood River County Commission.

The group crowded the third floor courtroom to question the commissioners about their resolve to prevent a gaming center from being sited east of Hood River.

"It's my perception that the county is much less committed to keeping a casino out of Hood River than the city," said Alan Hickenbottom, No-Casino spokesperson.

However, Carol York, who was acting chair because John Arens was not present, said the county's recent resolution to support Cascade Locks in its lobbying efforts for a casino did not supercede its previous stand against construction of a facility above Hood River.

"We have no jurisdiction over the incorporated city of Cascade Locks so we believe we should stay out of their business like we hope they would stay out of our business," said York.

Teunis Wyers, county counsel, told the No-Casino members that the county was just using a different "style" to prepare its opposition by compiling data with department heads that would outline the potential impacts created by a greater demand for services from casino-goers.

"We are addressing everything that we can clearly and factually address," said York.

She was asked seven key questions about the county's response to the tribe's recent announcement that it was seeking to reclassify its newly acquired land, located adjacent to its existing property, as trust sites. If successful on that bid, those parcels would be then have "sovereign nation" status and be exempt from regulation.

York said that Wyers, on behalf of the county, had sent a letter of protest that same day to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Warm Springs Agency. That document asked for a 90-day extension of the original 30-day comment period since no information had been provided to the county with the tribe's brief July 23 note that is was initiating the conversion process.

In its Aug. 6 letter, the county requested that a full Environmental Impact Study be done on the properties to determine the natural resource impacts from the status change. In addition, officials are seeing an explanation about why these parcels are necessary to support a casino operation on the existing trust site. They are also requesting that the tribe address the jurisdictional and land-use issues that will arise if these sites are reclassified and used to support a gaming operation.

These issues include: the conflict with current Scenic Area zoning, an increased demand for law enforcement services, the dramatic rise in traffic volumes, sanitation to the remote area that is not eligible for city sewer, and compensation for lost revenue when the properties were removed from the tax rolls.

The county was opposed to the suggestion by No-Casino that it hire legal experts on casino issues to augment the services of Wyers and Will Carey, the county's land-use specialist. Wyers reminded the group that an attorney from Perkins Coie, the Washington, D.C., law firm that was recently hired by No-Casino to take on the local battle, had acknowledged that the firm had delayed but not stopped a casino from being built.

"Specialty law firms want a large sum of money with no guarantee of an outcome," he said.

Both Wyers and Carey said they felt confident about their abilities to handle the legal wrangling involved with the casino but were willing to consult with other lawyers if needed.

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