By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
November 25, 2006
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and U.S. Rep Greg Walden received giant-sized thank you cards last week for their ongoing support of a tribal gambling casino in Cascade Locks.
Government leaders from the rural community and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs held a congratulatory reception at the Pavilion in Port Marine Park on Nov. 14.
Dozens of residents dropped in during the afternoon to pen messages to the two newly re-elected officials. These expressions of gratitude were added to the 100 notes written by tribal members at a similar event on the Central Oregon reservation the previous day.
“Opponents to the casino made it an election issue by spending more than $1 million on negative campaigning this year. But both of these gentlemen held firm with their support and we are very grateful,” Greg Leo, tribal spokesperson.
He said State Rep. Patti Smith and Sen. Rick Metsger will also receive a large card with similar sentiments in the near future. Both Cascade Locks and tribal officials believe voters came out in favor of the project based on the outcome of November’s general election.
According to Leo, candidates that represented Hood River County and voiced support for the Bridge of the Gods Resort and Casino won their respective races without exception.
Cascade Locks Mayor-elect Roger Freeborn joins his predecessor Ralph Hesgard in advocating for the economic gains brought by a casino. Councilor Kerri Jo Osbourn, also an advocate, returns for a second term in the local office. She will be joined by new councilors Randy Holmstrom and Tom Cramblett, both in favor of the project.
The only city councilor to oppose the gaming facility, Tiffany Pruitt, did not seek re-election.
Leo said support also remains strong at the county level with new Board Chair Ron Rivers and District 1 Commissioner Barbara Briggs joining the lineup.
He said united voices will be invaluable with the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement expected in December. Leo believes that federal officials will be paying close attention to the assenting comments made by the people that will be most affected by the outcome of their decision.
“I think a majority of the electorate are looking forward to the tourism-based vision and economic growth that this casino will bring,” said Leo.
He said the Department of the Interior is likely to make a decision on the proposed casino sometime next year.
The Warm Springs are seeking to purchase 25 acres of land within the Port of Cascade Locks’ industrial park to house a 500,000 square foot gaming center. Another 35 acres would be leased for a parking lot. About three million visitors each year are expected to visit the facility that will resemble a native fishing village.
The tribes have agreed to build a new freeway overpass, expected to cost about $20 million, to alleviate traffic congestion in town. They will also provide money to the city, local school and emergency services to offset population growth needs brought by the addition of 1,700 new jobs.
Last year, Kulongoski signed a compact with the Warm Springs affirming the choice of Cascade Locks instead of eligible land just east of Hood River. He believed the off-reservation site in a largely willing community was a better choice than hotly contested plans for 40 acres of tribal trust land within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.