TEIR does not adequately address local concerns

Guest Editorial

Comments on Draft Tribal Environmental Impact Report. I presented most of these comments at the public meeting [hosted by the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, which is interested of developing a casino] in Ridgecrest on Jan. 11.

We have subsequently reviewed the draft TEIR and have additional questions and concerns as stated in this letter.

1. TEIR is premature with no legal basis. Since the proposed location is not tribal land, there is no authority or concurrence that authorizes a TEIR instead of NEPA or CEQA compliance to adequately address the potential environmental impacts. As a result, the TEIR is currently inoperable and useless. This lack of authority is highlighted in most of the letters in Appendix C, the notice-of-preparation comment letters, and we want to reiterate this point. Until the authority issue is resolved, there is no foundation to respond to the issues raised by the public.

2. TEIR is disorganized, difficult to follow, not transparent. EIRs are typically assembled in order of interest or concern to promote understanding and utilizing facts. The TEIR has more than four inches of information in the report; however, it was assembled backwards. The document should address the most important issues in the front of the document, and due to the volume of data, each chapter needs to include a clear summary. The pages of the TEIR were assembled in a haphazard fashion and are not numbered sequentially. This makes it very difficult to refer to specific page numbers, chapters and sections. The TEIR seems to purposely confuse and intimidate the reader, which is of particular concern to the public.

3. The analysis software is flawed. The TEIR relies on a public-domain software package, IMPLAN Model 3.0, as a basis for much of its analysis. That software was developed as a USDA Forest Service model, not as an economic analysis model. While it has been widely used for various purposes, the model is flawed and does not result in realistic projections for the casino’s economic impact to the Indian Wells Valley. IMPLAN is frequently used to generate impressive, incredible (meaning not credible) impact numbers to lobby politicians. It models data only down to the county level, not as it relates to the city of Ridgecrest. It also appears that the operating parameters and adjusted inputs are faulty, and the results suffer from bias to overstate the project’s success. IMPLAN jeopardizes the validity of the report’s entire economic impact analysis as presented in Appendix J, economic impact analysis.

4. TEIR includes big city comparisons in the eastern U.S. that should never be used in comparative analysis regarding the small western town of Ridgecrest. The TEIR cites studies and comparisons to other locations without regard to whether locations are comparable to Ridgecrest, the IWV or Kern County. Blatantly cherry-picked examples used include Baltimore, Md.; Philadelphia and Pittsburg, Penn.; Atlantic City N.J.; and Des Plaines and Elgin Ill. (suburb of Chicago). These well-known gambling destinations in or near large cities are clearly not reasonable examples to be used for comparison. They do not account for comparable city size, deal with the significant fact that there is no major highway adjoining Ridgecrest or deal with the proximity of Ridgecrest to the gambling mecca of Las Vegas. Although there are Indian casinos within 100 miles of Ridgecrest, authors chose not to present any data or analysis about them in the TEIR. As points of reference, Oklahoma has more than 100 Indian casinos. In Nevada there are 27 tribes in the casino business. None of those casinos was used in the studies or examples in the TEIR. Where is the data to show the profit/loss status of casinos in small, out-of-the-way towns?

5. Appendix A, problem gambling research, cites only six references. It is a documented fact that gambling addiction is a significant issue. Gambling addiction will cost the taxpayers each and every year. Gambling issues are being studied by the Desert Research Institute and addressed by the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas, the Reno/Sparks Indian Colony Tribal Health Center and the Rise Center for Recovery. focusing on the effect of gambling on tribal members of the Cherokee Nation. These organizations wouldn’t exist if there weren’t significant impacts from gambling problems. The casino will not pay to mitigate these problems, the taxpayers will.

6. Appendix B, casinos are a crime, does not include any examples or references on the West Coast.

7. Appendix D, Municipal Services Agreement, includes several statements of financial mitigation measures. These include, “The tribe shall pay to the city a mitigation payment in the sum of $100,000 each quarter,” “a one-time payment of $80,000 for a new police car” and “annual fees of $128,000 for additional critical municipal services which shall be paid to City in quarterly installments.” The MSA does not include a default clause, and there is no way the city of Ridgecrest can enforce the mitigation measures. The consequences of failure to meet these financial obligations would be significant/critical impacts that must be addressed in the EIR documentation and remedied in the final “deal.”

8. Appendix J, Section 1, population and employment related impacts, is grossly deficient. Appendix J does not address the real impacts that gambling will have on Ridgecrest/IWV residents. It does not address the basic parameters such as patron numbers times patron spending vs. casino expenditures and revenue. It also does not address the economic and community impacts regarding the loss of any resources to the Ridgecrest community. The analysis needs to address that all profits “ultimately derive from patron spending” and how this significant economic impact will be mitigated. Of particular concern is the statement found on page 25, “The Ridgecrest Casino is expected to draw over 320,000 annual visitors to the area in in Year 1, employing 218 people and 370,000 annual visitors in Year 3 employing 361 people.” Stated another way, this is 1,000 people per day. This projection is totally unsupported and obviously extremely overstated; therefore, the entire analysis is fatally flawed. In addition, if that number were to be supported, the report does not adequately addresses the impact an addition of 1,000 visitors per day would have on the city of Ridgecrest’s infrastructure.

9. Disclaimer is troubling. The basis for the TEIR projections is further called into question by the disclaimer found on the last page of the TEIR and elsewhere in the report: “Although we believe that the expectations in these reports are reasonable, any or all of the estimates or projections in this report may prove to be inaccurate. To the extent possible, we have attempted to verify and confirm estimates and assumptions used in this analysis. However, some assumptions inevitably will not materialize as a result of inaccurate assumptions or as a consequence of known or unknown risks and uncertainties and unanticipated events and circumstances, which may occur. Consequently actual results achieved during the period covered by our analysis will vary from our estimates and the variations may be material. As such, the Innovation Group accepts no liability in relation to the estimates provided herein.” This brazen lack of accountability causes further concerns about the risks associated with this TEIR.

10. The economic analysis is grossly overstated. It is a well-known fact that, in spite of all efforts of the city and the Ridgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, not that many tourists come to Ridgecrest. At the planned location or anywhere in the city limits, this casino will be not be able to attract significant numbers of people from out of town, as it will be too far from both Highway 395 and Highway 14. Estimates of 1,000 people per day are absurd and cannot be supported. When the project was proposed, the casino website initially overestimated new visitors at 67,000. Now, in the recent TEIR, the estimates have more than tripled to 320,000 (first year) — what is the basis for this increase? Local-hire jobs were initially stated at 144, now they have nearly doubled to 218 – what is the rationale for this? Even if these estimates were realistic, the TEIR does not adequately address the infrastructure problems of an influx of that number of people into the IWV. IMPLAN 3.0 and the TEIR studies and data resulted in a flawed business plan and will result in business failure. The economic benefits are not demonstrated, much less verified. This entire project is unsustainable.

Request/Recommendations. As a result of the above issues, the associated risks and potential consequences, it is necessary that the tribe first and foremost resolve the issue of the legal basis to use the TEIR process instead of NEPA or CEQA. Second, I request that you update the draft TEIR, NEPA or CEQA documentation as applicable to address the concerns that have been raised by the public, especially Appendix J. Third, address and ensure enforceability of financial impact mitigation. Fourth, due to the significance of the public comments, provide for an additional review period for further public input prior to finalizing the EIR documentation.

A. Raymond Kelso

Pleistocene Foundation

Story First Published: 2018-02-02