By HOLLY M. GILL
Gorge News Report
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 Madras, 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.
Rudy Clements Sr., who has been part of a 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 & Casino. "It's taken a lot of give and take on both sides, but I think we're close."
Anna Richter Taylor, spokesperson for Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office, said 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 2000, but tribal members voted against it.
For many years, the Tribes have owned 40 acres in Hood River, according to Greg Leo, spokesman for the tribal Gaming Enterprise. 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.
When the tribes proposed building 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."
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. We're a former mill town that has been struggling for years."
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 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.