Two views on casino bill defeat


News staff writer

September 20, 2006

Opponents of a tribal gambling casino in the Gorge claim the defeat of a federal bill last week as a victory in their ongoing fight.

“Defeat of this bill is just one more indication that a Las Vegas-sized casino in the heart of the Columbia Gorge makes no sense,” said Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

However, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs contend that, whether House Resolution 4893 ends up being approved or not, their plan stays on track.

“To claim victory here is like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise,” said Len Bergstein, tribal spokesperson.

HR4893 sought to restrict off-reservation gaming but “grandfathered” projects already in the works. The bill was considered by the full House on Sept. 13 under a “suspension of rules.” That approach is most often used to fast track non-controversial legislation because it allows for little debate and no amendments.

When a bill is sent to the floor via that method, it requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage. HR 4893, proposed by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., failed by a vote of 247-171.

Bergstein said Friends should not tie the defeat of the legislation to the Gorge casino plan. He said attempting to pass a controversial bill by a suspension of rules drew fire from many tribal and government leaders who were denied the ability to propose amendments.

“This is not a referendum on the Bridge of the Gods Casino. It is a bill with fairly complicated issues that are still not resolved,” he said.

Bergstein said the bill could still resurface under normal procedures. He believes it stands a good chance of passage by the standard simple majority vote based on last week’s tally.

If HR4893 is approved by Congress, Bergstein said it would still not affect the proposal for Cascade Locks. He said although the bill prohibits new off-reservation casinos, it grants an exception for projects submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs by March 7, 2006.

And the Warm Springs’ plan to site a 500,000 square foot casino in the city’s industrial park is already undergoing federal review. Even if HR4893 is voted down again, Bergstein said the review continues and a decision will likely be made by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the BIA, sometime next year.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has a proposal similar to that of Pombo — including the exception for existing plans — awaiting consideration in the Senate.

“If both of these bills fail, we are still under the operation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. We believe that law will allow the casino to go forward because it is good for the tribe and good for the community of Cascade Locks,” said Bergstein. “And if either of these bills passes, our proposal will still be considered by the existing rules.”

Gorman praised U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., in a recent press release for being “particularly instrumental” in defeating HR4893.

“He was on a mission to stop this thing, and thank goodness he was,” wrote Gorman.

Bergstein said Wu, whose First Congressional District represents the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, used “misleading” arguments.

For example, he said Wu compared the Gorge setting to Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park. Bergstein said Wu failed to mention numerous disparities between the Gorge, which was set up as a national scenic area, and the two parks.

For example, he said the Gorge is home to two railroad lines, interstate freeway, state highway and numerous communities. And, the tribal proposal meets the purposes of the National Scenic Act, which encourages economic development within urban centers so that resource lands are protected.

Bergstein said the tribe wants to build in Cascade Locks for that reason instead of on 40 acres of eligible forest land east of Hood River.

Friends and Columbia Gorge No Casino have joined forces to fight the Warm Springs plan. They contend the estimated three million visitors would increase air pollution and traffic congestion.

In addition, the groups believe development in the industrial park would endanger the habitat of bald eagles and other threatened and endangered species, and bring social ills and more crime to local communities.

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