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County pens support for CL Casino

Commissioners send letter to governor in support of gaming site

The Hood River County Commission has reaffirmed its support for a tribal gambling casino in Cascade Locks.

On Monday the elected body unanimously agreed to send a letter to Gov. Ted Kulongoski outlining the reasons behind that support. The Commission had delivered similar messages to former Gov. John Kitzhaber but decided that Kulongoski needed to hear from them directly to understand the strength of their resolve.

The Feb. 18 letter states, “Hood River County, and specifically Cascade Locks, has one of the highest unemployment rates and lowest median income levels in the state. The creation of 1,000 jobs, with projected income levels significantly above the area median income level, would accomplish what otherwise requires years to achieve, on the very unlikely chance it could ever be achieved at all. The opportunity is before us. It must not be lost, particularly in light of the negative consequences that will ensue if this development is not permitted in this location.”

Under federal law, Kulongoski can cast the decisive vote on whether any casino can be built on tribal lands not acquired before the 1988 passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde has mounted a campaign against the Confederated Tribe of the Warm Springs proposal to construct the gaming center within the 120-acre industrial park owned by the Port of Cascade Locks. That opposition has been joined by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and No Casino.

In turn, Cascade Locks has hired a lobbyist to help convince the new governor that the casino should be built in the willing community and not on the 40-acre trust parcel just east of Hood River that is the backup choice of the Warm Springs but has drawn negative reactions from both county and city officials.

Greg Leo, tribal spokesperson, said Warm Springs leaders have not pursued formal negotiations with Kulongoski out of respect for his need to settle into a new office and address budget issues first. Although the tribe has chosen an architectural firm to design building plans, Leo said the final drawings will not be completed until the specific site has been chosen.

ASCG Inc. of Anchorage, Ala., has been hired to take the lead on the project. The Alaska native-owned company employees 600 workers and was selected from a nationwide search of more than 22 major architectural and engineering firms. According to reports, the Gorge casino will be the sixth Indian gaming center that ASCG has undertaken, with the business primarily focused on municipal, state and federal buildings and infrastructure.

Leo said officials from the firm won the contract for the estimated $100 million casino development because of their respect for native culture and history that underscores the need to blend development with the surrounding natural setting.

“They are a great firm and we’ll be happy to have them design a project that is going to complement the beauty of the Gorge,” Leo said.

Friends contends that traffic generated by three million visitors to the casino each year could bring more air pollution problems to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Portland-based environmental group also claims that allowing the first off-reservation casino in Oregon could open the door for other tribes to build in the Gorge.

During a recent visit to Hood River, Kulongoski declined to discuss the controversial subject of the casino, reiterating that he wants to review all sides of the issues before taking further action.

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