By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
A bipartisan group of local, state and federal officials have strongly refuted U.S. Rep. David Wu’s arguments, raised Thursday, against siting a gambling casino in Cascade Locks.
The government leaders have fired off a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton outlining their opposition. They contend that Wu’s letter to her contained “inaccuracies and misleading statements that demanded clarification and correction.”
Wu alleges that the proposal by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to build within the city’s industrial park will damage the environment by increasing traffic, congestion and air pollution.
“I can’t imagine why my colleague would want to derail a process that the tribes, local governments and the state have been working on in good faith for years.
Our goal was to follow the intent of the National Scenic Area Act by concentrating development where development already exists, and by creating tourism-related jobs to replace those lost by industries the Act discouraged in the Gorge,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who resides in Hood River.
“If Rep. Wu’s letter blows apart this agreement, then the construction trades stand to lose nearly two million hours of work and the tribal members and others in the area will lose 1,000 permanent jobs.
Moreover, the tribes will most likely return to their plans to locate the casino east of Hood River on trust land overlooking the Mark O. Hatfield Park.
They could return to that site tomorrow if they wanted. Instead, it makes better sense to approve the compact which would site the casino on the Port of Cascade Locks industrial lands that were created by tailings from the construction of Bonneville’s second powerhouse,” he continued.
Oregon Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Mt. Hood, and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, joined Walden in strong disagreement over Wu’s assertions.
“The casino agreement represents a significant opportunity for both the Warm Springs tribe and the struggling community of Cascade Locks to achieve economic vitality and sustainability,” said Metsger. “I am disappointed that Congressman Wu did not learn the information others more closely aligned on this project have already reviewed.”
“It’s unfortunate that Congressman Wu weighed in on this issue without first learning the facts or dialoguing with me or the many other elected officials who are directly involved and informed,” said Smith. “This proposal is a good thing for the region and came after years of collaborative, bipartisan efforts between the tribe, Cascade Locks, Hood River County and the state of Oregon.”
Hood River County Commission Chair Rodger Schock and District 1 Commissioner Carol York have also signed on to Walden’s letter, along with many other Mid-Columbia officials.
“I am unaware of an elected board in this region that opposes this proposal. While a gambling facility was not our first choice to strengthen the area’s economy, we have had no luck in bringing jobs to the region and cannot afford to let our unemployment continue to rank among the nation’s highest,” said Schock. “This casino would spur economic development that will help Cascade Locks and the Gorge for years to come.”
“I’m disappointed that Congressman Wu didn’t contact me or any of the other local officials in this areas that I am aware of to find out more information about the proposed casino in Cascade Locks. I would have been, and still am, happy to clarify information and show him both of the proposed sites so that he could better understand the issue on the ground here locally,” said York.
Walden has laid out facts in the letter to Norton that he hopes will provide her with a clear look at the issues as she works toward making her decision. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has asked Norton to approve his recommendation that the Warm Springs casino be located in Cascade Locks because of “unique” circumstances.