Tribal Government & News

Tribe, Polk County to help state improve highway access to Grand Ronde

05.13.2020 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, State government


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Access to Grand Ronde on highways 18 and 22 will soon be improved thanks to the Tribe and Polk County working together to help fund the project.

During its Wednesday, May 13, meeting, Tribal Council approved an intergovernmental agreement with Polk County regarding the project.

Polk County has been awarded a $4 million grant to work on the Valley Junction to Fort Hill project with the Oregon Department of Transportation. Part of the project would improve access to Spirit Mountain Casino, the Tribe’s principal economic entity.

The approved agreement would evenly split the Polk County match amount of $231,770 between the Tribe and county, which required the intergovernmental agreement.

As a consulting government on the project, the Tribe will regularly be consulted and coordinated with regarding the planning, design and implementation of improvements to the state highways that bring many guests to the casino from the Portland and Salem areas.

Public Works Coordinator John Mercier said the estimated 18-month highway construction project probably will begin in mid to late June. The Tribe will need to sign another memorandum of understanding with the Oregon Department of Transportation as well, he added.

In other action, Tribal Council approved applying for two grants that will, if received, help the Tribe develop its own assets and staff a Tribally operated fire department.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency SAFER grant would provide $555,000 over three years to help pay for three staff members at the Grand Ronde Fire Station while a Firehouse Subs Foundation grant would provide $20,000 to the Tribe to purchase vehicle extraction equipment that would include a spreader and cutter.

Tribal Council also approved an emergency amendment to the Worker’s Compensation Ordinance that will cover employees who contract the COVID-19 coronavirus while working for the Tribe. The emergency amendment will expire on March 31, 2021.

Assistant Tribal Attorney Kim D’Aquila said during the Tuesday, May 12, Legislative Action Committee meeting that the current ordinance excludes ordinary “disease of life” injuries, which covers diseases the general public is exposed to outside of work.

The amendment will allow Tribal employees who contract the COVID-19 coronavirus or become subject to a quarantine order as a direct result of work-related exposure to receive benefits. It also establishes a presumption that Grand Ronde Health & Wellness Center providers who contract the virus did so as part of their employment.

Finally, Tribal Council approved the enrollment of one infant into the Tribe because they meet the requirements outlined in the Tribal Constitution and Enrollment Ordinance.

The entire meeting can be viewed by visiting the Tribal government’s website at and clicking on the Government tab and then Videos.