Casino impact up for discussion at Jan. 11 meeting

Casino impact up for discussion at Jan. 11 meetingPictured: Legal counsel for the tribe (foreground) addresses city representatives and casino proponents (including Lori Acton and George Gholson, background) during the last meeting of the Tribal-City Advisory Committee. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

A public meeting to receive input on the draft Tribal Environmental Impact Report regarding the proposed Timbisha Shoshone casino is set for Thursday, Jan. 11, 6:30 p.m., at the Kerr McGee Center. Lori Acton, consultant to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, announced the meeting during the Dec. 20 Ridgecrest City Council meeting.

The environmental review process was a subject of controversy earlier this year when the tribe’s land-swap plans meant it was no longer subject to the federal-level National Environmental Policy Act process. The original Municipal Services Agreement between the tribe and the city assures that the tribe would adhere to NEPA, as opposed to a TEIR. But both the city’s and tribal legal counsel ruled that the “whereas statements,” where the assurance is listed, are not a legally binding portion of the MSA.

In past meetings Casino Developer Nigel White said that he would pursue a less-stringent review process for the sake of expediting the project, and Tribal Chairman George Gholson added that the TEIR process was more attractive because it was substantially less expensive. But members of the public raised concerns that lower costs would be indicative of lower standards and that the tribe was going back on its word to undergo a NEPA review.

The proposed location for the casino is in the business park between the front gate of the base and Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union. The roughly 27-acre parcel would house a casino, players club, retail shop, buffet restaurant, bar and lounge, meeting space and parking, totaling roughly 25,000-30,000 square feet.

A theoretical second phase of the project might include a separate restaurant, a 52,000 square-foot convention center, and a 100-room hotel.

Some were also concerned about the tribe’s hiring of Acton, a former councilmember who helped narrowly approve the $5.5-million land sale to the tribe. Members of the public questioned whether she violated the Political Reform Act’s “one-year ban,” which prohibits elected officials from communicating with their former agencies to influence decisions regarding an agency where they are employed.

While City Attorney Keith Lemieux admitted that there was the “appearance of a problem” and advised the council to write her a letter asking her to proceed with caution, he said she did nothing to violate the PRA. Acton said her position was simply to advise the tribe on Brown Act procedure.

Public comments can also be e-mailed to teir@timbisha.com, faxed to 760-690-4486 or mailed to Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, Attn: TEIR Comments, PO Box 1779, Bishop, CA 93515.

The draft TEIR is available online at www.timbisha casino .com.

Story First Published: 2018-01-05