By DAMIAN MANN
Jackson County and the city of Medford have upped the ante in the debate over a proposed casino by asking for more time from federal officials to analyze concerns over local impacts.
Letters written by both the county and the city raise potential issues over the Coquille Indian Tribe’s proposal to build a casino in Medford. Concerns range from traffic and infrastructure impacts to possible increased demand for gambling addiction recovery programs.
“This is not just a Medford issue,” Councilor Dick Gordon said.
The tribe has purchased the former Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and former Kim’s Restaurant next-door and has agreed to lease the nearby Bear Creek Golf Course.
The city earlier had asked for a 30-day extension to respond to the Coquille tribe’s proposal, but voted Thursday night to ask for a 60-day extension.
“We decided to err on the side of caution and ask for an additional 30 days,” Councilor Bob Strosser said. “To be fair, let’s know what the issues are and discuss them.”
The tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property in a government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site.
In addition, the Coquilles have asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988.
The Coquille tribe runs The Mill Casino in North Bend.
Medford is concerned with impacts to its water system, storm drains, sewers, traffic, parks, fire, police and emergency services. The city wants a better idea of a casino’s effect on local revenues from property taxes and lodging taxes.
Jackson County wants to analyze potential impacts on the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the jail as well as on regional transportation and regional air quality. The county would like a better grasp of the impacts on social and mental health services, particularly related to gambling addiction.
“All we can do is put our two cents in as far as the impacts to the county,” Commissioner Don Skundrick said. “Quite honestly, we are riding Medford’s coattails.”
Gov. John Kitzhaber’s recent request for an extension was approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs so that state agencies can analyze the impacts of a casino in Medford.
City Attorney John Huttl sent the gaming office a letter on March 5 asking for an extension to review the process of converting private land into a federal trust, which takes it off the tax rolls.
The city hasn’t received any information on the Coquille tribe’s request to the gaming office, so it is not in a position to comment on the application, Huttl wrote.
“The city will be aggrieved by any process that will impact the city without the city having a meaningful opportunity to appear or comment,” he stated.
Huttl stated the city wants to see an analysis from the Coquille tribe on its request for an exception to the gaming prohibition, though he added he suspects the tribe will claim that any lands in trust in Jackson County become reservation land.
Ray Doering, spokesman for the Coquilles, said the kind of questions being asked by various governments is all part of the process.
Over time, he said, the tribe will be able to provide answers to these questions.
Doering said the tribe so far has agreed to the requests for extensions.
“We want to make sure everyone is involved,” he said.
However, Doering said he doesn’t think the Coquilles would agree to extensions of excessive periods.
“It depends on how long this keeps going,” he said.
The Coquilles have offered to meet with the city and other government groups to talk about their plans, Doering said.
“We’d rather just sit down and talk about it,” he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.