County pledges to quash Indian casino | TahoeDailyTribune.com

County pledges to quash Indian casino

by Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

El Dorado County can expect a long, expensive and difficult fight against the federal government to stop plans for an Indian casino proposed off Highway 50 at Shingle Springs.

“The fight will be expensive and it is always difficult to predict the outcome of lawsuits, but we believe that our position in the litigation is fully supported by the law and facts,” according to a signed position statement read Tuesday by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

The lawsuit filed against the National Indian Gaming Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Interior Department contends the government agencies failed to consider the environmental impacts of the proposed casino. The suit also names Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

But just how expensive the fight will be remains to be seen. So far $300,000 has been spent in legal fees since the the county filed its lawsuit in January. The county has not used general fund money. It has used $100,000 from its legal fund and $200,000 from the contingency fund to pay the Sacramento-based law firm of Diepenbrock and Associates.

The county plans to release more money from its contingency fund to the law firm in coming weeks, but the amount has not been announced.

It may get more expensive as court motions continue to be made to stop the Miwok Indians from building the 381,250-square-foot casino complex at Shingle Springs. It would include a 250-room, five-story hotel.

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In fact, the county has taken the position that it will fight the government no matter how long the suit is tied up in court.

“We are prepared to do whatever we can to prevent the casino from being built in El Dorado County,” Supervisor Dave Solaro said. “We feel it is not only worth it, but feel we have a good chance of prevailing even if it takes a few years.”

Telephone calls to the Miwok tribal office were not returned.

The suit followed a lawsuit the county filed against Caltrans late last year. That suit contends Caltrans approved construction of an overpass at the casino site without its meeting proper environmental criteria. The county contends that because the overpass would be privately funded, Caltrans permitted the construction without the same criteria that would have to be met if it were a state-funded project.

In both suits, South Lake Tahoe filed a friend of the court brief supporting the county.

While maintaining its focus on what it considers flaws in environmental assessments approved by the federal agencies, the board also points out that the casino would have an enormous impact on South Shore casinos.

“Many people do not understand the enormity of what is being proposed,” according to the board’s position statement. “Existing gaming compacts with the state allow up to 2,000 slot machines per facility. This means a casino 25 percent larger than the largest currently at Lake Tahoe.”

Solaro, who represents Lake Tahoe, said a study from the tribe provided to the county found that the impact to the South Shore could amount to a 20 percent job loss at casinos.

An economic study provided by the county counsel found the financial impact to the South Shore could be a $45 million annual loss.

The board’s statement cited insufficient water supplies, problems already associated with septic problems in the Shingle Springs area, zoning that isn’t consistent with the surrounding rural area, impacts to roads, air quality, dust and erosion impacts as not being sufficiently studied by the government.

Also cited was that the county stands to pay out additional money because the casino operation will require additional public safety officers, ambulance services, road and school funding. If a private business of the size of the casino were to be built, the county would collect about $2.8 million a year in property taxes to fund those public services, according to the position statement.

“Since Indian tribes pay no local taxes, the additional hardship the casino will place on local governmental services and the local schools will have to be borne by the taxpayers of the county,” the statement said. “This tax inequality is not only unfair to the taxpayers who have to pay more or receive less to make up for the extra burden imposed by the casino, but it is also unfair to local taxpaying businesses who will be handicapped in competing against the various non-taxpaying casino businesses.”

No court dates have been set to settle the lawsuits.

— Jeff Munson can be reached at (530) 542-8012 or by e-mail, jmunson@tahoedailytribune.com

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