County, casino backers strike deal |

County, casino backers strike deal

Noel Stack and Susan Wood

PLACERVILLE – The battle is over. El Dorado County and the Shingle Springs band of Miwok Indians have struck a deal over the tribe’s proposed Highway 50 interchange project and Indian casino, ending years of litigation and bringing millions of additional revenue into county coffers.

Tribal representatives and county officials, who made the announcement yesterday afternoon at the El Dorado County Government Center, appeared pleased with the deal. But South Shore tourism officials were more apprehensive of future impacts a West Slope casino would have.

The deal amounts to nearly $200 million for the county over a 20-year period and an end to all lawsuits between the county, tribe and other agencies, according to Chief Assistant County Counsel Ed Knapp. “I feel like I’m in the ‘Twilight Zone’ today,” Tribal Chairman Nick Fonseca told the Mountain Democrat. “I never thought we would get to this point because of opposition from the county. It’s a win-win.”

A grateful Fonseca addressed the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. “No longer are we adversaries,” Fonseca told the supervisors after the decision was announced.

The Board of Supervisors had staunchly defended its position of continuing its legal battles to stop the project. A position statement on the county Web site states: “This is a planning nightmare – no rational planner and no sensible public official would ever approve a commercial project of this magnitude in an area zoned for rural residences. Yet this band and its gambling financiers claim to have the right to build such a monstrosity because of a distortion of history.”

The county spent $3.5 million in legal expenses taking the tribe, federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, Caltrans and casino backers to court.

“We exhausted every possible avenue that we had to prevent it. We need to keep the best interest of this county in front of us,” Supervisor Helen Baumann said. “When it became obvious despite all of our best efforts that it was truly inevitable we needed to work as hard as we could with the casino to help them understand the level of impact.”

Tahoe’s District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago agreed, adding that county officials felt rectified the agreement at least eased the anticipated the impacts of the tribal casino.

“It could have been in litigation forever, and we’d end up with nothing,” she said, billing the deal as “the most comprehensive agreement between a county and tribe.” Under the compact, added slot machines would amount to more money for the county – for every 1,000 machines, $200,000 extra money could be earmarked for the local government.

South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Ted Long, who serves on the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority board for the city, agreed said the casino being built was “inevitable.” He wonders how the windfall for the county could help the city in terms of compensation for lost revenue. The idea is gamblers also shop and eat at restaurants.

“We’re the ones who would suffer,” he said.

Heavenly Mountain Resort Chief Operating Officer Blaise Carrig, who also serves on the LTVA board and in the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance, said he’s disheartened by the deal.

“I was hoping the county was in it for the long haul,” he said. “I think it’s a large threat to the economy here. It should be a huge dent in the gaming share, and these people stay in hotel rooms and going out to dinner.”

The deal grants El Dorado County $5.2 million each year in the 20-year period to offset Highway 50 impacts. The county estimated that the casino will add up to 15,000 additional cars a day on the freeway.

The county will have to front some funding for mitigation projects, such as a carpool lane from El Dorado Hills to Greenstone or Ponderosa, but the continuous payments from the tribe will cover the costs.

The deal also gives the county $500,000 annually for law enforcement. Another $78 million over 20 years will cover other anticipated impacts of the casino project and “protect and enrich the quality of life for residents.”

Supervisor Rusty Dupray said he’s still against the idea of a casino on the Western Slope but said Thursday: “Eventually they would win. We felt it was paramount to at least get something out of them.”

The casino will be built after an interchange to the Shingle Springs Rancheria is constructed. The tribe’s only other access to its land is by way of private road owned by a subdivision, which is also in litigation with the tribe. Those legal issues must be hashed out before construction begins on the interchange and casino.

Named “Foothill Oaks Casino,” the project will sit on 4.6 acres of land inside the rancheria. The project, which will likely be phased, includes a three-story casino, complete with five restaurants, three bars and parking garage, as well as a 250-room hotel. The casino will not be visible from Highway 50, according to tribe officials.

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