City refutes anti-casino charges

August 31, 2005

Cascade Locks City Manager Robert Willoughby hopes that an upcoming series of casino meetings won’t spark another “misleading and disingenuous” media campaign.

He also wants local opponents to back away from claims that the city made “secret” decisions to support the gambling facility. Willoughby said Richard Randall, cofounder of Cascade Locks No Casino, recently made that allegation in a published statement. But public records from as far back as 1998-99 show that Randall, and other opponents, were actively involved in the decision-making process.

“I guess the opponents don’t have any good, strong arguments against this so they have to make things up and approach it indirectly,” said Willoughby.

In September, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will host four meetings regarding the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs proposal for Cascade Locks. Willoughby is concerned these forums will set off another spate of “false advertising.” He also believes it should be known that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which currently operates the casino now closest to Portland, has invested $1 million in the statewide opposition movement. That money was turned over to the Coalition for Oregon’s Future to help pay for “negative” television and print ads.

“It’s extremely ironic that finances from a casino are being used to fund the opposition to another casino. And that fight is being waged under the guise of family values and the environment,” said Willoughby.

He contends the Grand Ronde has a financial motive for opposing the Warm Springs’ plan. If the proposal is approved by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, it will place the Gorge facility about 43 miles from Portland, almost 20 miles closer than Spirit Mountain, the Grand Ronde casino that lies roughly 60 miles southwest of the metro area.

Willoughby said the Coalition’s ads show Crown Point and a scenic waterfall while asking viewers to help protect these natural wonders. He said there is no footage of the barren acreage that will actually be home to the project. Or any mention that, if the casino is denied, the industrial park could be developed with “smoke stacks” from a manufacturing base. In addition he said citizens are told that Oregon doesn’t need another casino — but there isn’t going to be one. Willoughby said the Warm Springs have agreed to close down gaming at Kah-Nee-Ta on their Central Oregon reservation in exchange for the Cascade Locks site.

“The Grand Ronde is participating in an ad campaign to raise awareness of what some of the potential impacts may be to a change in Oregon’s gaming policy,” said Justin Martin, government relations specialist for the Grand Ronde.

He said it would be a misnomer to view his clients as opponents of the Warm Springs. Martin said the Grand Ronde is concerned about Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s approval of the state’s first off-reservation casino. The tribes believe his new “case-by-case” approach for casino placement reviews could lead, as in this case, to inequities among gaming operations.

“We’ve got a problem with the governor making a decision that does, ultimately, affect all nine tribes who also have a great economic need,” said Martin.

He said a 1996 Grand Ronde ordinance opposes off-reservation gaming. And that, said Martin, is still the stand taken by his clients.

However, the Grand Ronde has twice tried to tie projects, such as building a major league baseball stadium, into a request for a more urban casino setting. Martin said those offers were made out of self-preservation in case government policy shifted from allowing a casino only on reservation land.

“If the state’s policy changes we have a responsibility to maximize our economic development possibilities for 5,000 tribal members,” he said.

Willoughby said Kulongoski granted an exception for the Cascade Locks casino as allowed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Oregon’s lead official felt that it would be better to house the casino in a largely willing community. He felt the tribes would prevail in their bid to build a facility on eligible land just east of Hood River, which was strongly contested by local citizens. Kulongoski also recommended that Norton approve the alternate location because of the high poverty rate shared by both Cascade Locks and the Warm Spring communities. He felt the proposal would not only brighten the grim economic picture, but provide better resource protection. The tribes have agreed to deed over 175 acres near Hood River that lies within the National Scenic Area. In addition, the 40-acre trust parcel on the steep slope above the city would be placed under a permanent conservation easement that prohibits development. Kulongoski’s decision was also based, in part, on the united voice of Hood River County officials in support of the Cascade Locks project.

“This entire process has been as open as you can get and it’s troubling to have almost everything published be either misleading or dishonest,” said Willoughby.

In the Aug. 24 edition of the Hood River News, Randall stated in an opinion piece that public officials in Cascade Locks had a “consistent behavioral pattern” of not fully informing the public about key issues.

“I can only imagine the potential for truly devastating economic, environmental and social harm that can be inflicted when public officials apply this consistent behavioral pattern to something as traumatic for our region as a Class III tribal casino,” wrote Randall.

He declined to comment directly on the city manager’s statements until he had seen them in print.

“I look forward to the city manager’s view and any other communication that helps strengthen the public dialogue,” said Randall.

According to Willoughby, there have been numerous public meetings on the casino issue that were all aired over the local access channel. And six years ago Randall pledged to turn in an anti-casino petition that included 300 signatures — a document that never materialized.

“There has been an opportunity for Mr. Randall and other citizens to participate in the process from the very beginning. It was a very good process, they just didn’t like the results,” said Willoughby.

His exasperation extends to the results of a recent survey undertaken by No Casino. He said that group joined with Friends of the Columbia Gorge, another member of the Coalition, to question 226 out of the city’s 1,100 residents about the issue. The results posted on No Casino’s Web site show 114 people in support of the project, 71 opposed and 41 undecided.

John Randall, cofounder of No Casino, said the polling question was simply, ’Do you support or oppose a casino in Cascade Locks?“ He said the results of a random sampling of the population were dramatically different than the 70 percent support rate reflected by past city surveys.

“I feel the results show that the overwhelming support claimed by the city is just not accurate” said Randall.

Willoughby said No Casino’s survey was “unscientific and unreliable” but still shows support for the casino. He believes a more accurate reflection of the community’s sentiments can be found in the election of Marva Janik to the Cascade Locks Port Commission. She proclaimed support for the casino while John Randall, her opponent, denounced it. When the May election results came in, Janik took the race by an 80 percent margin.

“Every time we have a contested race, it is the candidate who runs for office in support of the casino who wins. That message is consistently sent loudly and clearly by the voters,” said Willoughby. “We need this casino to provide jobs and the majority of community members are behind it.”

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