On the evening of Sept. 19, the White Salmon City Council voted to send a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The letter objects to the transfer of land in Hood River County into tribal "trust land" status as a way to provide additional land for development related to a proposed tribal casino.
The letter is geared to respond to the recent purchase of approximately 150 acres by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. Trust land is considered sovereign territory, and if the status is granted, the property would not be subject to any land-use regulations from Hood River County, the city of Hood River, or the Columbia River Gorge Commission.
The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs currently has 40 acres in trust land status. That property is expected to be used for the casino itself.
The city's letter does not address that land.
"I want to make it very clear once again that this is not an action that affirms or denies the suitability of a casino on that land," explained Mayor Roger Holen. "This addressed only that land being trust land, and the concerns about the land having no restrictions on its use, including items such as visual subordination, density, color, etc."
Holen said a draft of the letter would be distributed to members of the City Council for comment and edits before it is sent.
The vote to send the letter was 3-1. Members Susan Benedict, Tim Stone, and Penny White Morris voted to oppose trust land status for the tribe's new property, while Francis Gaddis dissented.
Gaddis pointed out that if the casino goes in, the tribes would provide significant financial support for police and fire departments.
"People are not opening their eyes," Gaddis said. "The closing of the aluminum plants has had a real effect on the whole area. I know people who have worked in casinos elsewhere, and they get treated very well. It's not the best wages in the country, but it's a good, living wage."
Gaddis noted that a casino across the river would put a lot of people to work.
"We need more business, like everybody else. It'll help our economy," Gaddis noted. "I've seen other casinos built. They are not blights on the area, they are fine buildings and very well taken care of."
The White Salmon City Council acted after attorney Kenneth Woodrich, a representative of the Hood River-based "No Casino" group, requested support from the council at the Sept. 5 council meeting.
The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners has already formally object to the tribe's application.
In August, the County Commissioners sent a letter to Cheryl Lohman, acting superintendent of the Warm Springs Agency, and to Marion Peterson of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to oppose trust land status for the tribe's new parcel.
Key points made by the county included:
The tribe's proposed use of the trust land will have significant noise and light impacts on the citizens of Klickitat County, particularly in the towns of White Salmon and Bingen;
The increased traffic resulting from a casino will require more roadway maintenance by the county and ... delay management of the Hood River Toll Bridge;
The proposed use of the trust lands -- a casino -- will result in an increase in costs of social welfare services to the county and its towns;
Washington and Oregon residents will bear the costs of increased Attorney General fees to prosecute additional crimes related to the presence of a casino (e.g., domestic violence, NSF checks);
Conveyance of these lands into trust status should be examined carefully because it removes land intended for General Management Area zoning.
In Bingen, Mayor Brian Prigel said the Bingen City Council had not yet registered an objection to the tribe's trust land application. However, Prigel said he was concerned about the concept.
"In my opinion, this is a significant issue because of the long-term implications and the precedents it sets," Prigel explained.