Casino Yes: A Warm Springs Welcome

HR News editorial

April 9

The Warm Springs welcome on Wednesday in Cascade Locks provides several things for the Columbia Gorge:

* An economic boost for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs from the compact signed with Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

* A definite economic development prospect for Cascade Locks and the rest of the Mid-Columbia, in the proposed casino the tribes hope to build in the city.

* An end to the worrisome possibility of a casino being built on the hillside land the tribe owns just east of Hood River.

The compact agreement is good news for the county and for Cascade Locks, but this is still a good time to be mindful of the concerns of those Cascade Locks residents — albeit a small minority — who oppose the casino, and of Gorge residents who fear it will further pollute the Gorge.

However, the tribe has promised to be a good steward of the land, in association with municipal and county partners. The donation of up to six percent of gross gaming proceeds the tribe has pledged to the community demonstrates their good faith in creating a tourist destination that can benefit the county. Plus, the tribe will turn over another 17 percent of receipts to the state for education, conservation and economic development projects.

The casino compact reflects the “Two Communities, One Vision,” sentiment shared by the tribes and Cascade Locks in their united hope to bring the west Hood River County gaming facility to reality.

Indeed, the signing of the compact gives the tribes and Cascade Locks prominent roles in the economic and cultural life of the Columbia River Gorge.

Simply stated, the casino would be the biggest visitor attraction along the Columbia between Portland and Pendleton.

The compact agreement ends the “waiting, waiting, waiting,” decried by Cascade Locks mayor Ralph Hesgard Wednesday.

Everyone who follows the casino debate breathed a sigh of relief that the Hood River land will no longer loom over the community as a potential development site.

That fact alone makes the signing of the compact in Cascade Locks an encouraging event.

Wednesday was an historic event as Tribal Chair Ron Suppah and Gov. Ted Kulongoski jointly signed the agreement for Oregon’s first off-reservation casino.

The proposal sat on former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s desk for years, with the general knowledge that Kitzhaber was opposed to the off-reservation casino idea, for philosophical and policy reasons.

Throughout Kulongoski’s two years in office, his agreement to the compact became like a distant drumbeat, the vibrations of which were felt but not officially heard by waiting tribal members as well as officials of Cascade Locks and Hood River County.

The governor, along with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, have now openly acknowledged their support for the Cascade Locks casino development, which bodes well for the one remaining obstacle to the plan: approval by Gale Norton, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary.

It has been stated in this space that the primary concern over the Hood River site was the detrimental impact of all that traffic funneling through the Highway 35-State Street-Interstate 84 off-ramp junction by Tum-a-lum Lumber and China Gorge. Ironically, the state is now in the early stages of upgrades to that already-stressed intersection.

Even with improvements, the traffic volume would have had a negative impact on that intersection and the residential area just up the hill. In addition, the path to that casino would have been over the historic Columbia River Highway, a roadway preserved for posterity.

Traffic impacts are also cited by Cascade Locks casino opponents; the issue should not be overlooked, nor should it be exaggerated. Positive measures have been proposed, such as promoting tour buses rather than single-vehicle visits, and the new interstate exit to be paid for by the tribe.

Change is coming to Cascade Locks and the Gorge, courtesy of this proposed casino. We encourage the Gorge community to embrace it, and we encourage the tribes and Cascade Locks to take all measures possible to retain the “one vision” ideal throughout the complex process of designing, building, and operating, the facility.

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