By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
July 20, 2005
Four public meetings over a tribal proposal to build a gambling casino in Cascade Locks have been postponed until September.
The first forum hosted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was advertised for Tuesday at the Gorge Pavilion in Port Marine Park. Other opportunities for comment were scheduled for July 28, July 30 and Aug. 1.
However, Cogan Owens Cogan, the Portland firm facilitating the meetings, said a delay is necessary to meet federal noticing guidelines. In addition, involved officials felt that attendance would be lower if each of the 2-hour, 30-minute sessions were held during the month of August when many people are vacationing.
“We’re waiting to get going but we felt that it would be better to delay so that everyone who wanted to be there was given the opportunity,” said Jim Owens.
He said the first open house is now tentatively slated to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13 in the Gorge Pavilion at Port Marine Park in Cascade Locks. The second event is planned for Thursday, Sept. 15, during the same time period at the Hood River Inn. The third session will be Saturday, Sept. 17, from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the pavilion, and the final meeting will be 5 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19 at Benson High School in Northeast Portland.
Owens said the meetings follow a formal protocol that is part of the National Environmental Policy Act process. Citizen perception is being sought on the positive and negative effects of a casino, what issues need to be addressed, and if any alternatives are available. All testimony will be recorded for further consideration during review of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs plan to build on 25 acres within the Cascade Locks industrial park.
Owens said a Web site will soon be up and running to provide citizens with an opportunity to follow the federal review process for that proposal. In order for the tribe to build on off-reservation land, the newly acquired property has to be placed in government trust, which gives it “sovereign nation” status and exempts it from most regulation.
The formal review process for that land classification change is now underway and Owens said the four meetings provide citizens with an opportunity to speak out. He also said a mailing address — along with the Web site address — will soon be published. Then all interested individuals and organizations will be encouraged to submit their thoughts in writing for entry into the record.
“There will soon be a variety of ways for people to comment,” he said.
In a controversial move, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a compact with the Warm Springs for the gaming center proposal in April. The tribes want to site a 500,000 square foot casino in Cascade Locks that is expected to employ 1,400 workers.
Kulongoski approved the plan, in part, because it would eliminate the possibility of the tribes building on eligible land just east of Hood River. He believed the project should be constructed in the largely willing community of Cascade Locks and not on a 40-acre trust parcel within the federally protected National Scenic Area. In return for building in Cascade Locks, the tribes agreed to turn over 175 newly acquired acres to the state adjacent to the trust parcel for preservation, and grant a conservation easement on the existing Gorge property.
The governor agreed with Cascade Locks and Warm Springs officials that both communities were facing high poverty rates and would benefit from the employment opportunity. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has promised to advocate for approval of the casino proposal by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. The project is also being championed for Cascade Locks by two state Hood River legislators, Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, and Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Mt. Hood, as well as many local city and county officials.
However, the project has also been challenged on several fronts. A local citizen group has formed No Cascade Locks Casino and joined People Against a Casino Town from Florence. The two organizations are legally challenging Kulongoski’s right to negotiate a gambling compact. They argue that casinos are a banned activity in the Oregon constitution and the governor cannot singularly craft a new policy.
In addition, Friends of the Columbia Gorge has joined with tribes, businesses, and faith-based groups to form the Coalition for Oregon’s Future. The coalition is opposed to a casino in the Gorge because of the potential for increased pollution and traffic congestion.