Wednesday, November 9, 2005/lk
October 5, 2005
Cascade Locks No Casino expects federal studies of the site for a proposed tribal gaming facility to overturn that plan.
However, City Administrator Robert Willoughby believes that officials will find no problems associated with the casino that can’t be overcome.
The five National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) open house programs held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) drew to a close this week. June Boynton, BIA regional environment protection specialist, said public comment gathered from those sessions will be incorporated into a formal report. That document, expected later this fall, will identify issues that need to be studied in depth, including environment, socioeconomic and transportation concerns.
The Warm Springs are seeking to build a 500,000 square foot casino/resort on 25 acres within the city’s industrial park. Another 35 acres will be leased to provide parking for about three million visitors each year.
No Casino praised the NEPA process as the “layman’s tool to fight the corruption brought to our communities by big money interests whose only concern is how many dollars can be made.”
“At the heart of NEPA is the understanding that man has a profound impact on his environment at all levels,” wrote Richard Randall, founder of No Casino, in a position statement.
“NEPA strives to strike a balance between nature and the development needs of mankind, allowing private citizens and groups to give voice to their concerns and address such issues as population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, new and expanding technological advances, as well as social and economic impacts such as crime and inadequate community housing,” he stated.
No Casino believes that a casino anywhere in the Gorge will degrade natural and scenic resources by increasing traffic and air pollution. But the group’s primary objection to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs proposed facility is the social problems that it could create.
When No Casino activated earlier this year, Randall said the growing gambling industry within the state has brought a sharp spike in crime and family problems.
According to Oregonians for Gambling Awareness (OGA), a 1997 U.S. Census report reveals that Americans spend more money each year on gambling than on groceries. OGA also quotes data compiled by Earl L. Grinols, author of “Gambling in America: Cost and Benefit.” He claims that gambling creates $289 in social costs for every $46 in benefits.
The No Casino fight has been joined by a well-known local resident, who is now speaking out strongly against the project. Bob Montgomery, a former state representative, recently aired his opinion about the Warm Springs plan in a OGA publication.
“Cascade Locks residents will be left with all social costs of the casino resort and none of the benefits. By that time it will be too late. We will have lost our town,” wrote Montgomery, after extolling a long list of both economic and cultural reasons why the proposal should be rejected.
Willoughby disagreed with that assertion based on his own conversations with officials from 10 Oregon towns located near a casino.
“I’d really like to challenge those figures. I haven’t talked to any of these communities who have had significant addiction and social issues,” he said.
Randall said city officials have not dealt with the reality that the tribe might not stop with one property purchase. He said a conversion of land into “trust” or sovereign status would take it off the tax roles.
“What potential exists for a wealthy tribe to acquire via purchase much of the currently privately-owned lands and business enterprises and become the primary entity controlling much of our current city?” he asked in the position paper.
Willoughby said Cascade Locks has obtained state grants to plan for future growth, with or without the casino. He said the formal Memorandum of Agreement between the city and tribe outlines that the Warm Springs will only take the 25-acre industrial parcel, and Government Rock, which they already own, into trust.
“Individual tribal members would certainly be entitled like anybody else to invest in property here. We would like to see them open businesses and create jobs, we clearly need the economic growth,” he said.
Willoughby would like to see a halt to opposition arguments that he labels “erroneous” until the results from the final Environmental Impact Study are in next spring.
“We all just need to stay tuned and we’ll get the answers to an independent, scientific review within the next six months,” he said.
However, Randall said No Casino will continue its education campaign to increase the number of opponents. He believes the community needs to be fully informed about the many “detrimental” social issues associated with a casino.
He would also like to see citizens given more of a voice in the decision-making process so that planning is not done by elected officials alone.
“Hopefully, Cascade Locks citizens will not be required to confront bad government decisions at the local, tribal, state and the federal level merely because of political correctness,” stated Randall.
Willoughby said all of the City Council meetings are open to the public and interested community members are always welcome to participate.
Individuals unable to attend sessions at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of each month may watch their local government at work on Channel 23.