Casino report addresses economic impacts

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe hosted a public meeting last week to receive input on the Draft Tribal Environmental Impact Report for the tribe’s casino project. A relatively low turnout and lack of discussion items resulted in a very brief meeting where David Zweig, president of Analytical Environ-mental Services, presented the report.

“I’ve never been this far before on a project like this, so it’s a milestone for the tribe,” said Tribal Chairman George Gholson. He added that much of the controversy surrounding the casino project – specifically the surprise TEIR process instead of the expected National Environmental Protection Agency process – was “understandable,” but thinks the report will address many peoples’ concerns.

“I don’t know where I would stand with the TEIR either,” he said, “but I hope it’s beneficial to the tribe and the community.”

Developer Nigel White also thanked the attendees – specifically former Economic Development Manager Gary Parsons and Mayor Peggy Breeden – for coming, before turning the informational presentation over to Zweig.

Zweig said that while the report is neither a NEPA or a California Environmental Quality Act document, it is “very similar to both.” The draft report is nearly 1,000 pages long and covers a variety of topics including economic impacts where many of the public concerns are.

Member of the public Raymond Kelso commented that in a “company town” like Ridgecrest, where China Lake is the primary employer, “no one wins except the casino.”

In a section regarding the impact on local business, the report attempts to refute what it refers to as the “Atlantic City myth.”

“Casino development sometimes elicits concern, which research has dispelled, that substitution of consumer spending will impact local businesses, especially smaller ‘mom and pop’ retail, restaurant and entertainment businesses ... Research found that contrary to a negative impact, casinos in Atlantic City actually reversed a downward trend,” says the report.

It cites a 1997 study that casinos appear to increase the number of non-casino businesses.

According to the report, economic impacts from the initial phase of the project include 218 direct jobs and roughly 100 more indirect jobs, labor income estimated to exceed $8 million annually and total spending in Kern County of roughly $39 million.

White and Gholson also addressed accusations that the tribe intends to obtain groundwater rights or cultivate and sell marijuana in light of municipal restrictions. White said it was the “most ridiculous thing” he had heard.

Gholson has repeatedly assured the public that the tribe has no intent to use water beyond the scope of the casino or start up marijuana operations locally. But the fact that it’s still a possibility, and a known precedent in California, is still a concern to some residents.

Absent from the report was the impact on visibility in the night sky, a concern for many local star gazers. Representatives of the Dark Skies Initiative have voiced concerns over the years and have included complaints from other areas of the Southwest where casinos have impacted star gazing in previously remote areas.

For more on the development of the casino project, see future editions of the News Review.

Story First Published: 2018-01-19