Tribes, governor near agreement on casino
Cascade Locks likely location for Tribes' new casino/resort
For more than a decade, officials from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have been trying to find the perfect location for a permanent casino/resort facility.
They have considered property they own in the Madras Industrial Site, near Hood River, and at Cascade Locks, as well as another location on the reservation. During that time, the tribes have faced opposition from another tribe, a former governor, a city, a county, and environmental groups.
This week, Rudy Clements Sr., who has been part of the team negotiating with the governor's office, is hopeful that tribal and state governments are finally nearing agreement on a location at Cascade Locks, a community that has strongly supported the casino.
"Negotiations have been going fairly well," said Clements, chairman of the board of directors for Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort and Casino. "It's taken a lot of give and take on both sides, but I think we're close."
Anna Richter Taylor, spokesperson for the governor's office, said that the governor and his legal counsel are negotiating on behalf of the state of Oregon. "The goal is to have the negotiation finalized before the next legislative session, Jan. 10," she commented. "But, at the same time, we're not guiding the process by a timeline."
The site on which both parties are focused is a 60-acre parcel located in the Port of Cascade Locks' 150-acre industrial site. The Tribes would purchase 25 acres, and have a long-term lease for the other 35 acres, according to Chuck Daughtry, general manager for the Port of Cascades, which owns the property.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to enhance our community," said Daughtry. "It's an opportunity for us to build a tourism-based economy here."
The main drawback to building in Cascade Locks is that the Tribes don't own the site. Oregon policy, developed after the passage of the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, allows Oregon tribes to have one casino on tribal land which was placed in trust before 1988. The governor has the authority to approve a casino on property acquired after that year.
Each of the nine federally-recognized tribes in Oregon operates a casino, including the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which operates the casino at Kah-Nee-Ta. If the governor approves a casino in the Columbia River Gorge, Kah-Nee-Ta would no longer have gaming facilities.
At Cascade Locks, the Tribes already own the 34-acre Government Rock, located just east of the proposed site on the Cascade Locks industrial site, but that land was purchased in 1998, and is less suitable.
"If we put it in the industrial park, a lot of the infrastructure is already there," said Clements.
The emphasis on the Cascade Locks site has resulted from years of consideration of other sites, and two tribal referendums. The Tribes first considered the Madras Industrial Site in May of 2000, but tribal members voted against it.
Two years later, in May of 2002, the tribal membership overwhelming favored pursuing the Columbia River Gorge as the location for the casino, rather than along U.S. Highway 26 on the reservation. The referendum did not specify whether the facility should be in Hood River or Cascade Locks.
Both locations are on land the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs ceded to the federal government in the Treaty of 1855. "They are all traditional lands where the Warm Springs people have lived for thousands of years -- prior to the Treaty of 1855," said Greg Leo, spokesman for the tribal Gaming Enterprise.
For many years, the Tribes have owned 40 acres in Hood River, according to Leo. Because the land was held in trust long before the federal gaming act, the Tribes could build a casino there without the governor's approval.
Those 40 acres, and another 175 purchased by the Tribes in support of the first parcel, all lie within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
"The scenic highway cuts right through the middle of the 40 acres," said Leo.
When the Tribes proposed buiding a casino on the Hood River site, the city, county, and environmental groups were all vocal in their opposition to the proposal.
"There was a large, public process in Hood River, where many residents came out and objected to the casino," said Leo, adding that, "The Tribes has carefully listened to what people have been saying."
The governor is also opposed to the Hood River location.
"The original relocation request from the Warm Springs Tribes was Hood River," said Taylor, the governor's spokeswoman. "The governor has been clear that that is not a relocation that he supports, for a number of reasons, including that the Hood River community is not supportive of that."
Taylor continued, "The compact under negotiation now addresses not only this request for relocation (to Cascade Locks), but a number of other regulatory relationships. If we can come to agreement and guarantee certain state rights to the property in Hood River, then we will be in a position to consider their relocation to Cascade Locks."
Len Bergstein, spokesman for the Tribes, explained that a compact is an agreement between two sovereigns -- in this case, the state of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
If there is concurrence between the two parties, "the federal government also has to agree to the compact," Bergstein said. "It would go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and ultimately, to the Department of Interior."
As part of the agreement, "the state is requesting -- and the Tribes is very willing to do -- the perpetual protection of (the Tribes' Hood River property). It's a very pristine area," Bergstein said.
Bob Willoughby, city administrator for Cascade Locks, is excited about the prospect of a casino for his small community.
"I'm thrilled," he said. "I'm doing everything I can to convince the governor that it's a win-win-win."
Willoughby pointed out that the community relies heavily on tourism generated by local sights, such as Multnomah Falls, located about 10 miles away, and the Bonneville Dam, about 2 miles away.
"We're a former mill town that has been struggling for years," he said.
A survey of the town's 1,141 residents showed that about 70 percent are in favor of locating a casino and resort in Cascade Locks, he said.
"It's a lot more than a casino, hotel and restaurants. It's going to jump start tourism in the gorge," said Willoughby. "It will make this a regional destination. I call it tourism with a roof."
A resort and casino located in Cascade Locks, just 43 miles from downtown Portland, would be expected to attract about three million visitors annually, and generate about $38 million annually, according to a study conducted several years ago by EconNorthwest, a consulting firm.
A casino located in Hood River would generate a net revenue of $13.3 to $15.5 million per year, with about two million visitors. By comparison, the Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort and Casino had a net profit of about $3.5 million last year.
The 500,000 square-foot facility would be comparable to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde's Spirit Mountain, according to Jeff Ford, chief executive officer of the Warm Springs Gaming Enterprise.
Spirit Mountain, located about 60 miles southwest of Portland, is currently Oregon's busiest casino. The Grand Ronde tribes, who operate the casino, have opposed the siting of a casino/resort in Cascade Locks.
A Cascade Locks facility would employ 1,000 to 1,200 people, compared to about 350 at Kah-Nee-Ta, which stands to lose about 70 employees if the new facility gets the governor's approval.
"Our tribal members will be given preference to go there," said Clements, adding that details such as transportation, housing, and day care would have to be worked out.
Contrary to a report carried in another newspaper, if the new casino is approved, "We are not closing Kah-Nee-Ta," said Leo. "We will just not have gaming at Kah-Nee-Ta. It will be transitioning into a center for tribal culture and the arts. It also has a wonderful conference facility which keeps itself busy."