Sunday, January 15, 2012

Casino Blocked in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Cascade Locks, Oregon has been under the gun for a proposed casino for over 12 years. Cascade Locks is in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge surrounded by the National Scenic Area. Threats did not stop our group, NO Gorge Casino, from fighting it constantly. The property the tribe wanted was located in the Port industrial park right next to the Columbia River. It consisted of 35 acre and 25 acre parcels. What started out as just a small casino ended up being the size of several super Walmarts, plus a resort hotel, plus huge parking lots. They have held up development in this town for 12 years. My opinion is that other companies did not want to locate in or near a casino town. In the meantime we lost our high school, our middle school, two churches and several businesses. People moved out of town, not only because of the economy, or no jobs, but because they did not want to raise their families in a casino town.

The powers that be put all of their eggs in two baskets, one the casino/resort & the other a Nestle water bottling plant. Neither of these projects would be good for our little town of less than 1,000. The MOU that the tribe put together, and presented to the town was full of “mays” and “ifs” and of course was signed by the mayor at that time. It would have turned the town over to the tribe for pie in the sky. The former Governor signed a compact with the tribe and left office before the DOI approved anything (thank God).

The new Governor, John Kitzhaber, is totally against an off reservation casino and especially one in the Gorge near the National Scenic area and would not approve it. They tried to go around him, give everyone the old guilt trip and were in bed with the BIA and the DOI. I am elated to say that none of their efforts worked. The new Port Commission refused to vote them another lease option extension.

The tribe is not happy. Should they decide to try again it will cost them plenty. Their FEIS is out of date and the data must be updated. The EIS cost them over $20 million the first time.

Things started going downhill for the proposed casino when the tribe wanted to build an overpass into the industrial park. That would have entailed closing the East freeway entrance into town, basically cutting us off. People in town started doubting the lies being told. There would have been major environmental problems.

NO Gorge Casino worked hard at getting everyone to write letters to the editor stating the facts. When the
BIA came to town for a review and supposedly to hear from the citizens, the venue was taken up with tribal members bused into town with many wearing their finery for the TV cameras. We gathered citizens and kids together & picketed the entrance to the park where they were meeting. We were very visible. A special thanks from our group to Elaine Willman, CERA Board member, and Philip Brendale for attending two round tables in Cascade Locks. Their expertise and encouragement was so greatly appreciated. Every group needs a shot in the arm.

Everywhere they held meetings we were there with signs and speakers. With the enormous help of the conservation group Friends of the Gorge we held meetings and fought hard. To encourage people to come to our meetings we had picnics, potluck dinners preceding meetings, beer & wine parties & even a seminar. We started out trying to meet in the different towns in the Gorge and getting their officials to write letters against the casino. The traffic would affect the Gorge on both sides of the river. Everyone was encouraged to participate. Sometimes we would only have 3 people show up, but that did not stop us. We sent out a colored flyer to all residents with a simple question (are you for or against a casino?). It contained statements on the damage to the environment, the questionable improvement to the economy, etc. The truth is that it was about 50/50. We did door-to-door surveys. Finally, we voted in new people to the Port Commission. They were against the casino and also the lack of development and jobs in the last 12 years. They voted down the additional option extension for another 3 months. If the tribe wanted the land they would have had to come up with over a million dollars by midnight on January 4th. It did not happen. We are so happy we can’t stand ourselves, and we are getting ready to party hearty. We deserve it, as it has been a long haul.

FYI we were like panhandlers asking for signatures on petitions and for donations. We set up booths at fairs, parades & any event where there would be a crowd. Orders were placed for printed banners, pins, stickers & bumper stickers. We campaigned for those seeking office that were against a casino.

Our best wishes to any groups who are still fighting their tribes and proposed casinos and those just starting out. It is hard work. Try to get your elected officials off their chairs to help you. Any town, group, or citizens that would be affected should be contacted, given the true facts, and asked to help. You can do it!

Elaine D. Willman, Director
Community Development
and Tribal Affairs
Village of Hobart
2990 South Pine Tree Road
Hobart, WI 54155
W: 920.869.3806
C: 920.615.2882

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