Tribe suggests "win-win" casino site

A third site has been proposed for a Gorge gambling casino, a location that could be the "win-win" solution sought by local officials and tribal leaders.

On Dec. 6, representatives from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs suggested to the Cascade Locks Port Commission that the gaming facility be built within the port's 100-acre industrial park.

"We had a very good community dialogue about what would be best for the city, port and tribe," said Greg Leo, tribal outreach coordinator. "Everyone was interested in an arrangement that would bring a lot of economic development when and where it's needed most."

Leo said that site would allow the tribe to consolidate its development plans by placing the casino near a proposed destination resort on a nearby island. Government Rock, located within the city limits of Cascade Locks, was purchased from the port in 1999 and the tribe is seeking to have it reclassified as trust land so that it is exempted from regulation.

In exchange to having both projects in Cascade Locks, Leo said the tribe will agree not to develop about 200 acres of property it owns east of Hood River that lies within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The tribe has recently completed engineering studies on its 40-acre trust parcel in that location so that a casino can be built there if another option does not become available.

"I think it's a positive step that various leaders in the county are starting to look at alternatives that may be in the best interest of the county and its residents," said Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches.

But getting Gov. John Kitzhaber to approve an alternate site could be difficult -- at least in the immediate future.

According to Danny Santos, legal counsel, Kitzhaber still has "significant concerns" about siting a casino anywhere in the Gorge, especially on non-trust land. Only tribal properties owned prior to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 are eligible for gaming, unless an exception is made by the governor of that state.

Santos said Kitzhaber believes that giving the Warm Springs tribe approval for a casino in Cascade Locks will set a precedent for Oregon's eight other recognized tribes. In 1999 that same concern led him to veto a proposal by the Warm Springs to build a casino on Government Rock.

"I think there are several steps that need to be taken before we even take a hard look at this," said Santos.

He said the first step is to get the final word from the federal government on whether more than 160 acres of newly acquired Scenic Area property east of Hood River will be reclassified as trust parcels. The Warm Springs have made that request so the properties can be used to support a casino operation.

"I would encourage the governor to look at all the options, especially this new idea, and then we would invite him to come to the Gorge and visit all the sites, particularly the property east of Hood River so that he has a greater understanding of the impact a casino up there would have on this community," said Hood River County Commissioner Carol York.

Leo said once tribal members vote on the Hood River project in the spring of 2002 it will be difficult to change the site location.

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