North Bay News

Start of construction doesn't end casino controversy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

After nine years of controversy, legal battles and bureaucratic hurdles, the construction of a casino resort is underway. The prospect of an Indian casino appears to be closer than ever and just as controversial.

In Rohnert Park, it's a small amount of dust from a bulldozer and the continuation of a big dust-up between Sonoma County and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

"We have every right to do this and we have done everything we can to work with them," Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris said.

Builders have broken ground on the 64 embattled acres where a Las Vegas-style casino may open before the end of next year. That would be one decade since the Rev. Chip Worthington got involved.

"There is a rule of law in America and the Constitution must be honored, not big Las Vegas money," he said.

Money is only part of the issue, because while construction has begun, environmental and use issues remain unresolved between the tribe and county.

"The county is worried that it's a land use decision we had no say in," Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbit said.

"I think all local government resents the fact that we haven't had a say in these Las Vegas casinos that have been forced upon us; we haven't had a say," Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. "The fact of the matter is, this is an agreement, this is a contract between the state and the tribe."

The county worries about having to pay for casino-related infrastructure and services. The tribe, meanwhile, has promised millions of dollars in revenue from the casino and jobs.

Tom Roberts lives right next door to the project. He's for it.

"The main thing is, it's going to create jobs for people," he said.

In the meantime, the county and tribe have 90 days to work out their fine print, then it goes to mediation. If so, Sarris said Tuesday he still has some leverage and plans to use it.

"The casino is a done deal, we need to work on the mitigations; if they cannot agree on the mitigations, it goes to baseball arbitration, if it goes to baseball arbitration, this is what I have to say: the second pot of money, the gift money that I have the option of giving the county, they will not get, it will go back to the state, to the tribal nations fund," he said.

As for the next step, the county supervisors are planning a town hall meeting Thursday night. They want to hear from residents to make certain they don't miss anything in those upcoming negotiations.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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rohnert park, sonoma county, construction, north bay news, wayne freedman
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