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It was a big week for the proposed Warm Springs casino in Cascade Locks: A number of local officials, including Hood River County Commissioner Carol York, traveled to testify at a Senate hearing; and meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs released a scoping report for the casino project. Oh, yeah, and this issue of Portland Monthly magazine includes an article, "The Gamble In the Gorge," that looks at the controversy, the tribal community, the proposal — and casts it, in part, as a struggle not just of Indian tribes trying to prosper in a white man’s world, but pitted against one another for that prosperity. Unfortunately, since the magazine’s papercentric editors don’t put their content online (except for the first few paragraphs), you’ll have to track down a paper copy to read the piece...

A Big Week for the Cascade Locks Casino

It was a big week for the proposed Warm Springs casino in Cascade Locks: A number of local officials, including Hood River County Commissioner Carol York, traveled to testify at a Senate hearing; and meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs released a scoping report for the casino project.

Oh, yeah, and this issue of Portland Monthly magazine includes an article, “The Gamble In the Gorge,” that looks at the controversy, the tribal community, the proposal — and casts it, in part, as a struggle not just of Indian tribes trying to prosper in a white man’s world, but pitted against one another for that prosperity. Unfortunately, since the magazine’s papercentric editors don’t put their content online (except for the first few paragraphs), you’ll have to track down a paper copy to read the piece.

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McCain’s hearing

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., organized the Senate hearing in Washington D.C. to hash out thoughts on the an off-reservation casino in Cascade Locks; and, in the larger pictures, about whether it’s time to update federal law on Indians, reservations and gaming. McCain is chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He has said he’s opposed to the increasing desire of Indian tribes to for off-reservation gaming facilities — facilities like the Warm Springs Tribes wish for, off their reservation and closer to the hordes of gamblers who live in metropolitan areas like Portland. McCain proposes to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 restrict off-reservation casinos. Such legislation would likelu derail the Cascade Locks casino…which is moving along the federal regulatory process as we speak.

Commissioner York said at the hearing, in part, that she and nearly every other local Gorge official supports the Cascade Locks casino. “The Columbia River Gorge is a national treasure. But not every square inch of the Gorge is suitable to be protected as if it were wilderness; Congress recognized that when it passed the Scenic Act in 1986.”

(York’s remarks may be read here..)

York made a powerful point: That local officials and many residents support the casino. She skipped over this, though, that a community’s local officials and merchants will almost always support new development, because it means income and growth and tax dollars. Hood River supports the casino in Cascade Locks because the Indians threaten to otherwise locate it on a piece of tribal land in Hood River — and that would clash of the town’s upscale boutique self-image. But cash-strapped Cascade Locks stands to make millions of dollars in revenue-sharing with the casino.

York also asked that McCain exclude the Cascade Locks’ proposal from any changes to federal law tightening off-reservation gaming.

Other speakers at the hearing included, among others, chairmen of the Warm Springs and Grand Ronde tribes, and Michael Lang of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Lang said, the Friends “applaud Sen. McCain and the rest of the committee for putting this terrible proposal under Senate scrutiny,” and called for legislation prohibiting casinos in national parks and national scenic areas. Which would include, most pointedly, the Cascade Locks casino.

McCain himself has said, “In 1988, Indian gaming was a $200 million dollar industry. Today, the industry earns $19 billion a year and is spread throughout the nation. The amendments reflect the need to re-evaluate what constitutes appropriate regulation of this vastly changed industry.”

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The scoping report

For the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to win their Cascade Locks casino — a megaresort, really; we’re talking $389 million, 60 acres and 603,000 square feet of building, or about four Wal-Mart supercenters — they need the U.S. Department of the Interior to decide whether the project would be “in the best interest of the Tribe and its members and not detrimental to the surrounding community.” That decision, under Section 20 of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (the same one McCain wishes to amend), is still pending.

The Warm Springs also need Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to approve a fee-to-trust transaction, where the Indians would be allowed to buy 25 acres of Cascade Locks’ port property and, essentially, make it part of their reservation. That transaction needs environmental approval, a full environmental impact statement (EIS), and that takes a scoping report. Which BIA released last week. (You can read about the environmental process here and download the 42-page scoping report here.)

The scoping report outlines those issues the feds thing the EIS process should address — issues ranging from questions of potential affectgs on wildlife and habitat and the what modifications might be suggested to the impact of increased traffic and air quality. Also outlined in the scoping report are a wide number of questions that the BIA does not intend to address. Such questions as whether an off-reservation casino in Cascade Locks might motivate other tribes to seek off-reservation facilities in Oregon; who the investors are (that is, who stands to profit); and whether the Warm Springs would have to follow federal labor laws at the casino are deemed, according to the report, “overly speculative” or otherwise beyond finding out.

What else won’t the feds consider in weighing the proposed Cascade Locks casino? They won’t be looking at alternative gambling venues, for one thing, such as a development in Bend or The Dalles, or a multi-tribal casino in Portland.

Lang, in speaking with New West Columbia Gorge, calls the report “terrible,” and a good way for the feds to ensure appeals to their process. “This is not the time to limit or reject alternatives,” he said.

The report promises a draft EIS on the casino project sometime this summer, followed by a 45-day comment period. (Speaking of comments, the scoping report outlines, in detail, the number, content, type and origination of the 1,808 comments people gave on the casino project in 2005. 21 percent of those came from people in the Gorge, and 46 percent came from the Portland area, for example.)

A final EIS is said to be completed this fall.

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One comment

  1. The Gorge Casino proposal has come under the scrutiny of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. On February 28 it was the subject of an oversight hearing to determine problems that exist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs review of the proposal for a 600,000 square foot off-reservation casino within the heart of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Neither Senator John McCain nor Senator Gordon Smith view this proposal in a favorable light and it is likely the hearing will draw some level of federal response.

    I attended the hearing and was appalled to see Hood River County Commissioner Carol York had flown to DC and was lobbying on behalf of the casino gambling industry telling Sen. McCain and the rest of the committee how Hood River County would just love to have a massive Vegas-style casino built in the middle of a National Scenic Area. If you think a super Wal-Mart in Hood River is bad (apparently Carol did because she voted against it on the County Commission) imagine a building three to four times its size drawing 3 million visitors per year.

    The former publisher of the Hood River News had it right when he wrote the following:

    “What a foul odor to read that Hood River County Commissioner Carol York, apparently at the taxpayer’s expense, is jetting off to Washington D.C. to lobby for the siting of a casino in the Columbia Gorge. Shame on Carol.” (Letter to the editor by Jim Kelly, HR News, 3/8/06)

    We have a choice of two different futures before us. One is a protected national scenic treasure with livable communities that are protected for our children and future generations. The other is a Gorge with a 600,000 sq. ft. Vegas-style casino that is a mecca for casino gamblers and all the ills that accompany them. We know where Carol stands. Where do you stand?