Tribe holds TEIR public hearing

Public questions weight of report’s input on review of casino project

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Chair George Gholson hosted a public hearing for the Ridgecrest casino project’s Tribal Environmental Impact Report last Thursday, April 13 at City Hall. The TEIR document will identify potential environmental impacts on the Indian Wells Valley and was released for comments and review on April 6.

According to David Zweig of Analytical Environmental Services, the public comment period will remain open through May 6 after which notice of a draft will go out. The public then has 45 more days to submit final comments.

The purpose of the hearing was to receive input on what types of environmental issues the city may experience as a result of the casino project. Members of the public mentioned water consumption, light pollution, traffic and housing among their main concerns.

The Ridgecrest City Council was surprised earlier this year when it heard that the tribe would begin the TEIR process, since language in the city-tribe municipal services agreement suggested that the tribe would adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act process.

“What are we missing out by not having the NEPA process?” asked Jennifer Slayton from the public.

She said the TEIR process is comparable to those of both NEPA and the California Environmental Quality Act.

“There are very minor differences ... the TEIR looks at off-reservation impacts, whereas CEQA and NEPA look at impacts on the site itself,” she said.

Gholson had previously stated that the tribe selected the TEIR process over NEPA because it was significantly less expensive. To many locals, “less expensive” implied “less thorough.” But Zweig said that a TIER would not necessarily be any cheaper.

“There’s no set price for an environmental study,” he said. “It all depends on the magnitude of the project.”

He added that the TEIR was simply “more appropriate” given the nature of the project.

But members of the public were still concerned about the amount of weight that local input would carry throughout the TEIR process.

Zweig said that AES would prepare the final document to be reviewed by any interested city, county, state and federal agencies. These agencies are not required to review or comment but can “see if there’s something that is of concern to them.”

Judie Decker mentioned from the audience that the CEQA process requires a second public hearing after the impact report is drafted, but Zweig said that was not required of a TEIR.

“If a group of individuals objects to the conclusions of the final EIR, who can they voice their objections to?” she asked.

Zweig said that a group can express their concerns to the tribal council for the council’s consideration, but the tribe is not obligated to make changes after the voluntary review process.

“The city has gotten themselves and this community into a situation that I think most of us feel very uncomfortable about, and that is that you are telling us that the ultimate authority here will be the tribal council,” said Don Decker.

“The tribe and the developer has stepped into a community that has its own understanding of its destiny. And to engage in a major project without having a local governmental agency — and I mean the city of Ridgecrest — be responsible for this EIR is unacceptable.”

To comment on what concerns you would like addressed in the TEIR, or for more information, see www.timbishacasino.com.

Story First Published: 2017-04-21