No Casino broadens scope of debate

Opponents of the Cascade Locks casino want to expand membership, support proposed changes to Indian Gaming Regulatory Act

December 10, 2005

Cascade Locks No Casino (CLNC) is urging federal legislators to block tribes from building off-reservation gambling centers.

In addition, the group has decided to take its battle beyond the hometown borders. CLNC now vows to fight any casino proposed by Native Americans on land within the Columbia River Gorge.

“CLNC wishes to make it known that we oppose a casino anywhere in the Gorge, including Hood River. We are working with concerned residents of all communities – in both Oregon and Washington – to make sure that a casino is never constructed in the region,” said John Randall, CLNC spokesperson.

Randall also co-chairs Columbia Gorge No Casino, an affiliate organization that recently formed to take on the broader fight if necessary.

According to Randall, not only have the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs moved toward siting a casino in Oregon, but the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation once scouted near Stevenson, Wash., for eligible land.

“Casinos victimize the vulnerable, particularly the elderly and the young. Senior citizens are the fastest growing group of gamblers, and they are the group that can least afford it. A gambling operation in our town by its very nature will bring with it negative social and moral impacts that far outweigh any positive influences,” wrote Randall in testimony to U.S. Rep Richard Pombo and the House Committee on Resources.

Randall is hopeful that Pombo’s draft legislature will put an immediate halt to the Warm Springs’ plan for Cascade Locks.

The tribes have gained endorsement for that proposal from Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and a bipartisan contingent of government leaders representing Hood River County.

The Warm Springs want to build a 500,000 square foot casino on 25 acres in Cascade Locks’ industrial park. An additional 35 acres would be leased for a parking lot on the grounds at the eastern edge of the city.

Pombo, a California Republican, wants to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to restrict off-reservation gaming. The Hood River County Commission, and both city and port officials in Cascade Locks, have asked Pombo to “grandfather” the Warm Springs proposal if there are any changes in the law.

Local government leaders contend the federal review process already underway on that plan adheres to existing regulations – and the time, effort and money put into that review should be honored. Interior Secretary Gale Norton is expected to rule either for or against the Warm Springs’ plan by summer of 2006.

Kulongoski exercised an option under IGRA that allowed him to approve the off-reservation site in Cascade Locks. He believed that extenuating circumstances warranted the exception to the standard rule. IGRA requires casinos, except in special cases, to be built on land already given sovereign status by 1988 so they are exempt from regulation.

Also supporting the compact signed in April by Kulongoski and Warm Springs Tribal Chair Ron Suppah was U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who sits on the House Resources Committee, Oregon Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, and Oregon Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches.

These officials believe the casino should be allowed in the economically depressed community of Cascade Locks. Their support is based on the fact that Hood River has adamantly opposed the idea of a casino perched on the steep hillside above the city.

Cascade Locks Mayor Ralph Hesgard informed Kulongoski that the majority of his constituents want the casino because it will create 1,700 new jobs and promote business growth.

Randall said IGRA should be changed by House Resolution 4322 so the Warm Springs and other tribes cannot “reservation shop” for prime casino locations. He disagrees that Cascade Locks will gain economically from a gambling facility that provides all of the necessary amenities for its guests.

“A casino in our small bedroom community will have a devastating effect on local businesses that will be unable to compete with a tax-exempt tribal operation. We believe that a casino is not economic development and does not represent progress for our town,” he wrote to Pombo.

Randall agrees with Friends of the Columbia Gorge that the casino would bring more air pollution into the scenic corridor. He said, if the casino drew the expected three million visitors per year, about 1.5 million more vehicles would be accessing Interstate 84 in Oregon and State Route 14 in Washington.

“With that kind of traffic, the Scenic Area will no longer be scenic, and the sheer numbers will put pressure to develop further into protected areas,” Randall stated.

“A casino would have grave environmental consequences to the immediate vicinity around the site and have detrimental effects on wildlife, plant life and waterways adjacent to the location and throughout the Gorge,” he added.

Most people choose to live in rural areas, such as Cascade Locks, to escape urban sprawl – and not to get rich.

“The draft amendments, if enacted into law, will help us preserve that way of life. They will save our small businesses from unfair competition, and ensure a safe, clean environment for our children and senior citizens,” Randall stated in his testimony.

He said if the Warm Springs are stopped from building in Cascade Locks their focus will return to Hood River. However, Randall and Friends contend that the 40-acre trust parcel lies within craggy terrain that has many impediments to development.

“The tribe has said that if they are not able to build a casino in Cascade Locks, then they will build in Hood River. We fully expect the tribe to try, even though they face greater logistical and legal hurdles at that site,” said Randall.

Although Kulongoski’s legal advisers decided the state could probably not stop the tribe from building on their Hood River land, Randall said opponents strongly disagree.

Friends argues that the trust parcel is accessible by an easement through the Scenic Area from the Historic Columbia River Highway. The Portland-based conservation group believes that strip of land would be subject to federal resource and scenic protections.

“The Warm Springs Tribe, as well as other area tribes, do not have a ‘right’ to build a casino anywhere in the Columbia Gorge. The tribe’s “traditional lands” were ceded by treaty in 1855 to the federal government, who granted 650,000 acres and pseudo-sovereignty to the tribe. The federal government, however, retains ultimate authority over the tribe as the grantor of sovereignty,” stated Randall’s documentation.

He said, in addition, the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection and treatment under the law, regardless of race or ancestry.

“In light of these facts, claims of ‘aboriginal’ or ‘traditional’ home lands do not constitute ‘exclusive rights’ to access or ownership. In addition, the Columbia Gorge is a federally protected Scenic Area which precludes the ‘right’ of any group to develop within its borders,’ he said.

For more information on Cascade Locks No Casino’s political position access www.cl-nocasino.org

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