Proposed Cascade Locks casino site back on the market

An agreement between the Port of Cascade Locks and the Warm Springs Tribe concerning 60 acres of industrially zoned land that would have been home to a proposed off-reservation casino lapsed as of Jan. 5.

Chuck Daughtry, general manager of the Port of Cascade Locks, said commissioners decided to take no action about renewing the agreement after holding four meetings to discuss the issue in December.

By not acting, Daughtry said, the commissioners effectively let the agreement lapse.

"We could sit down and renegotiate it, but right now there is no agreement in place," Daughtry said.

Daughtry said that the Port of Cascade Locks had twice extended the agreement, which was originally scheduled to end in 2011, and three new commissioners elected in June participated in the decision not to renew it for a third time.

Daughtry said "confidential" talks are continuing between the Port of Cascade Locks and Warm Springs Tribe and that the port has received interest from other entities about leasing or buying the 60 acres. He characterized the interest as "speculative."

Daughtry said that by not having the agreement in place, it gives the port more flexibility because extending the agreement would have tied up the 60 acres for an unknown period of time.

The Warm Springs Tribe proposed to build Oregon's first off-reservation casino in Cascade Locks. The proposal sought to build a 603,000-square-foot riverfront resort and casino on the 60 acres. The Warm Springs Tribe asked the Department of Interior to take 25 acres into trust to accommodate the development.

At the time, the proposal received the support of then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski's administration.

However, during five meetings held in March 2008, environmental concerns and historical and policy reasons expressed by other Oregon Tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, were voiced at five hearings held by the Department of Interior.

In addition, with the November 2010 gubernatorial election of John Kitzhaber, who has long opposed locating a casino in the scenic Columbia River Gorge, state support for the project vanished.

Tribal member Justin Martin, who works as the Grand Ronde Tribe's off-reservation gaming lobbyist, said the lapsing of the agreement between the Port of Cascade Locks and Warms Springs Tribe is "good news."

"It means that off-reservation gaming in Oregon is off the table," Martin said. "We understand the need for the Port of Cascade Locks to look at all their economic development options."

Martin said he was pleased that the Warm Springs Tribe has moved on to other options besides an off-reservation casino in Cascade Locks. The eastern Oregon Tribe recently moved its gaming facility to reservation land adjoining Highway 26, making it more accessible to travelers.

"It's been extremely frustrating trying to get a decision out of the federal government," Daughtry said. "The state and federal approvals needed to line up and with the current governor not receptive to the proposal … with that reality the port needs to be looking at other potential interest."

Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr. announced at the Jan. 8 General Council meeting in Grand Ronde that the Port of Cascade Locks let the agreement lapse. He cited Tribal Council opposition to the proposal in 2008 as one of the reasons why the project never occurred.

Grand Ronde Tribal Council members attended all of the hearings, which were held in Portland, Warm Springs, Cascade Locks, Hood River and Stevenson, Wash., and expressed their concerns about altering Oregon's one casino per Tribe on reservation land policy.

Tribal Council members also expressed concerns about other Oregon Tribes staking claim to Grand Ronde's ceded homelands.

"For me, it was about our ceded homelands," said Tribal Council member Kathleen Tom at the Jan. 8 General Council meeting. "I am not in favor of more encroachment into our ceded lands. We have treaties that say Cascade Locks is part of our ceded homelands. It is a great honor that we were finally listened to."

"It's been a long road," said Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy. "I am inspired that a decision has been reached by the Port of Cascade Locks. My goal from the start was to preserve Grand Ronde's ceded lands from diminishment.

"The people of Grand Ronde have suffered many injustices, more so than other Tribes that did not experience Termination. As chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, I led the effort to maintain and preserve the land base negotiated through our treaties.

"While some boiled this resistance down to being between two Tribes fighting over a gaming market, that was not my motivation. I have grandfathers who signed our treaties and I resisted our ceded lands base being built on by another Tribe.

"A statement has been made that the Grand Ronde Tribe is determined to defend what is rightfully ours. And I want to congratulate the Warm Springs Tribe on the opening of their new casino. I wish them great success."

Kennedy said she also wanted to thank Tribal staff and fellow Tribal Council members for their work in opposing the Cascade Locks casino proposal.