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Pruitt openly opposes casino

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

February 25, 2006

Cascade Locks City Council President Tiffany Pruitt broke rank with her elected peers on Tuesday and spoke out publicly against a Gorge casino.

She was one of two officials from the small town who joined a panel discussion on the issue hosted by the Portland Garden Club.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Cascade Locks Port Director Chuck Daughtry showed a list of supporters that included all other local and state government leaders directly representing Hood River County and the surrounding area. In addition, the project has garnered approval from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who resides in Hood River.

Pruitt did not take office until 2003, years after the city council unanimously approved a resolution on June 28, 1999, to support a casino in Cascade Locks.

She was praised at the Feb. 21 garden club meeting by U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., for being the lone voice from a local agency to protest the Cascade Locks casino plan.

“Tiffany Pruitt is an unusually courageous person to be a public official in Cascade Locks and oppose this project,” said Wu, also an invited speaker.

His First Congressional District encompasses Spirit Mountain, a rival casino operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

Wu told his audience at the Feb. 21 event that he was “focused like a laser beam” on protecting the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which was treasured by all state citizens.

At issue was the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ proposal to build a 500,000 square foot casino/resort in the Cascade Locks industrial park. The facility, with 95,000 square feet dedicated to gaming, would be located on 25 acres purchased from the Port of Cascade Locks, with another 35 acres leased for parking.

“I imagine that most people, like I, moved to Cascade Locks to avoid the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy God’s handiwork,” said Pruitt.

Daughtry strongly disagreed with Pruitt’s stand. He said the Warm Springs and Cascade Locks had adopted the “Two Communities, One Vision” motto in a quest to overcome their respective high poverty rates.

addition to jobs, he said the casino would bring tourism and other economic benefits.

“This is going to provide the port with the opportunity to lease other properties and attract other businesses,” said Daughtry.

Pruitt said many parents in the community had chosen to commute for employment as a trade off for being able to raise their children in a safe and rural setting.

“It is being said that Cascade Locks needs the casino for jobs. But I can’t imagine that people are moving to Cascade Locks expecting to find jobs there,” she said.

Pruitt believed that the lure of 1,700 new family-wage jobs was not a selling point for many citizens in opposition to the casino. She contested that employees of the gaming facility would even earn the $31,500 average yearly wage being promoted by the tribes.

According to Pruitt, the traffic congestion from three million visitors expected each year at the casino — and the social ills associated with gambling — will lower the quality of life for the 1,151 residents of Cascade Locks.

“I believe the construction phase will bring an economic boom.

“But once it opens everyone will gradually gravitate to the casino, leaving our businesses no better off than they are now,” said Pruitt.

Daughtry said that in addition to providing jobs, the Warm Springs had pledged about $1 million per year to the city, port and county for general services. In addition, the tribes had agreed to pay lodging taxes of about $407,000 per year that would be used for marketing and promotion of the city.

On top of that revenue, Daughtry said Cascade Locks would receive $432,000 each year for added fire, police and ambulance services — and $340,000 the first year to gain needed equipment.

He said opponents failed to inform the public that heavy manufacturing was now permitted in the industrial park, which was exempt from Scenic Area land-use regulations.

Or that an outlet mall, such as that in Woodburn, could now be built without the environmental review process required for the casino.

“I just want to point out that some of the ways we’re being attacked by people is really unfair,” said Daughtry.

He said the Woodburn stores were housed in a 325,000 square foot building with 2,000 parking spaces, attracting about the same number of visitors each year as the proposed casino.

But an outlet mall, said Daughtry, would provide only 800 jobs and not bring as many economic benefits as the gaming facility, which will be designed as a tribal cultural center with interpretive natural trails nearby.

“We want to move into the tourism industry. Something that is more appropriate for the Gorge,” said Daughtry.

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