Tribe continues casino development

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are seeking the final member of a team to develop plans for a casino just east of Hood River.

Greg Leo, tribal spokesman, said the tribe intends to chose an architectural firm this fall and plan to clear trees and rocks from the construction site in early 2003.

“We have to move ahead. Although we have the best of intentions to work with our Gorge partners, it is quite clear that we need to follow the wishes of the tribal membership,” Leo said.

However, members from the No Casino activist group believe it is “premature” for the tribe to hire an architect since “significant” legal impediments stand in the way of that project.

“We feel this is nothing more than another attempt by the tribe to intimidate the citizens of Hood River and use our city as a bluff bargaining chip in their attempt at a Cascade Locks site,” said Toni Vakos, No Casino coordinator.

Meanwhile, Cascade Locks officials are not giving up hope that the gaming center will be built in their willing community — in fact they have hired a lobbyist to help Gov. John Kitzhaber understand how vital the jobs will be to the economically-depressed area.

In 1999 Kitzhaber vetoed the tribal proposal to build the casino on Government Rock, an island it had purchased that same year from the Port of Cascade Locks. He has since refused to weigh in on an alternate suggestion to locate the facility in the 120-acre industrial park.

Leo said the tribe has held its Hood River land in trust since the 1920s and has protected rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 to build on that property. He said the tribal membership left the location open when they voted three-to-one in favor of building a casino somewhere in the Gorge, but that there is currently only one viable option — referring to the Hood River site.

He said that has become abundantly clear since the tribe is still awaiting compact negotiations with Kitzhaber that were requested in late May. The tribe planned to lay out a strong case for constructing the casino in Cascade Locks but Leo said the financial plight of the Warm Springs won’t allow for long delays.

This fiscal year Leo said the tribes have cut $1.1 million from social, education and health care programs because of reduced revenues from timber and hydroelectric enterprises. He said the tribe anticipates additional cuts in services during the next several budget cycles.

“The cold reality is that the Hood River site is legally available to us and we must move ahead to meet serious and growing tribal financial needs,” said Leo.

No Casino is challenging the status of the tribes’ trust parcel, contending that is does not meet the definition of “Indian Land” under federal law and is therefore not eligible for development. These opponents also claim that the tribe has no legal vehicle access and still must meet stringent environmental protection standards before they can begin development.

In spite of threatened legal roadblocks from No Casino and both city and county jurisdictions, the tribe opened the door this week for Northwest architectural firms to vie for listing on the preferred “short list.” The top five contenders will be chosen about two weeks following the Aug. 30 submittal deadline and will then be asked to provide proposals specific to the Hood River project.

Their schematics must include a building of about 114,000 square feet, with additional deck space, terrace and a multi-level parking garage. Leo said the chosen architect will be the final team player needed to go ahead with the project. Currently, Jeff Ford, Kah-Nee-Tah general manager, has been selected as project leader and Bussard Engineering of Bend as the primary engineer, a company that has worked for the tribe since 1997.

Leo said architectural firms bidding for the job will be interviewed by a five-member panel of tribal leaders, with the final selection planned for November. According to Leo, the tribe plans to begin the design phase of the Hood River gaming facility by the end of the year.

“This is going to be a world class facility that we can all be proud of,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Cascade Locks city and port are splitting the $5,000 bill to hire professional lobbyist Jay Waldron from the Portland firm of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt.

His services will include organizing a strategy session with representatives of the two public agencies, Hood River County and the tribes. He is then being asked to arrange a meeting with Kitzhaber to let him know about the interests of the local community.

“We believe that the casino development in Cascade Locks is the right thing to do for the community, for the Warm Springs tribe and for the regional economy,” said Port Director Chuck Daughtry.

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