Miwok Rancheria plans access road
SHINGLE SPRINGS -Taking the long way home is not always for driving enjoyment.
To improve access to their land and build a casino the Shingle Springs Miwok Rancheria is building an interchange on U.S. Highway 50.
The Shingle Springs Miwok Rancheria will build a proposed interchange on U.S. Highway 50. The tribe bought a five-acre parcel adjacent to the highway in August of 2000. The rancheria will finance the estimated $15.3 million construction cost of the interchange. Construction of the interchange has been approved by the Tribal Council and will begin as soon as Caltrans makes their final assessments sometime this year.
The only access to the rancheria is a narrow, 1.1 mile back road with 15 speed bumps. The road winds through the Grassy Run housing development. The southern edge of the rancheria sits approximately 200 yards from the highway. Grassy Run Road, which turns into Reservation Road enters the northern boundary of the rancheria.
The Miwoks have been driving the back road to the rancheria since 1965, when U.S. Highway 50 was rerouted. For the Miwoks, the out-of-the-way route into the rancheria is more than an inconvenience. It takes about 10 minutes to reach a major causeway using Grassy Run Road, even though Highway 50 is only a stone’s throw from the rancheria. Executive Government Liaison for the Miwoks, Elaine Whitehurst, said in an emergency situation, the extra driving time could be the difference between life or death.
“The road is really everything,” Whitehurst said. “If you have a fire or a medical emergency, you can’t get out as quickly as you might.”
The Grassy Run Housing Association owns the road and does not allow commercial traffic through the causeway. The Miwok plan is to build a casino on the rancheria once the new interchange is complete. The proposed gaming has many Grassy Run residents voicing concerns about possible increased crime and pollution. Whitehurst said the Miwoks want to address the worries of the community.
“The public needs to know from us what is happening, not from the gossip,” Whitehurst said. “I think people think they can’t discuss it with us. I will talk to anyone. I would be happy to sit down and answer any questions. I will give them any information I have. I think it would help the community understand where we are coming from.”
The Miwok tribal representatives are expected to present their case during public meetings at the Diamond Springs Fire Department at 7 p.m., March 28, April 5, and April 10. The public will be able to view construction plans and a computer-generated picture of what the interchange will look like. In addition, the rancheria officials will present the projected economic impact numbers of the casino.
Catherine Fonseca of the Tribal Utility District said the casino will be economically beneficial to the whole county.
“El Dorado County is a corridor for Tahoe and Reno instead of being a destination for tourist dollars,” Fonseca said. “Tourists won’t just stay on the rancheria. They will go into the beautiful, historic city of Placerville, and more bodies means more business. The advantage is more revenue pulled into the county.”
Tribal members acknowledge that, with the highway interchange providing direct access to the rancheria, they can build the casino regardless of public opinion. Fonseca said regardless of the Miwoks’ right to build a casino, the tribe wants to work as part of the community to ensure the project is beneficial to the county as a whole and not just to the rancheria.
“The truth is the tribe can do what they want with their land but they have every intention of working with everyone this will affect,” Fonseca said.
One of the primary concerns voiced in the community is the casino’s potential to have an adverse effect on the crime rate. The rancheria will meet this concern with a security team and monetary support to local law enforcement agencies.
“Like any business you have security and you support any security around you,” Fonseca said. “All the police departments throughout the county need support. These are the entities that the tribe is most interested in taking care of because they support us.”
The Miwoks also want to clear up concerns that the proposed casino will allow gambling for persons 18 years old and up. While it is not mandatory for American Indian Casinos to comply with 21-and-over regulations, Miwok officials said they will not allow gamblers younger than 21.
“The kids may want to come in and game but we will not allow them in because the rules will be 21 and up,” Whitehurst said. “People here do not want their kids in here and we will comply with what they want because we are a part of the community.”
The Miwoks also faced criticism from the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors that their environmental impact report was inaccurate, grossly underestimating the impact of traffic, and air and water pollution. The tribe hired Environmental Science Associates of Sacramento to conduct the impact report. Fonseca said ESA conducted a thorough survey.
“(ESA) is an independent company,” Fonseca said. “They do their assessment, get it proofed, and get a second opinion. They do a good job. The tribe is trying to look at every angle. Native Americans look at the land not just as real estate. It is Mother Earth.”
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