By DAMIAN MANN
Battle lines will be drawn between two tribes next week over a proposed casino in Medford that has set off alarms with Jackson County and city officials.
Four public meetings and one executive session are being planned to air the Coquille Indian Tribe proposal for a casino at the former Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim’s Restaurant along South Pacific Highway.
The tribe also agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, adjacent to the two buildings.
The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians has opposed the Coquilles’ planned move to Medford as breaking a gentleman’s agreement in the state that allows only one casino for each tribe. The Coquilles run The Mill Casino in North Bend.
The Coquilles will lay out their plans for the casino before the City Council and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
The Cow Creek tribe has requested it receive enough time to present its side in the debate. A new study prepared by ECONorthwest for the Cow Creek tribe concluded that lottery dollars that pay for schools, parks and even local libraries will drop by $22 million annually throughout the state if a casino opens in Medford.
Letters written by both the county and the city raise potential issues over the Coquille proposal to build a casino in Medford. Concerns range from traffic and infrastructure impacts to possible increased demand for gambling addiction recovery programs.
The Coquilles have asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 2.42 acres in south Medford in a government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site.
In addition, the Coquille tribe has asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988.
In September 2012, the Coquille tribe announced it had purchased Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim’s Restaurant in hopes of opening a Medford casino along South Pacific Highway.
The tribe purchased Roxy Ann Lanes for $1.6 million and Kim’s for $675,000. The two properties total about 5 acres, and the golf course covers a little more than 18 acres. Both the bowling alley and the golf course continue to operate.
The Coquille say Jackson County is part of its service area, although the tribe is based in North Bend, where it already operates The Mill Casino. About 100 of the nearly 1,000 current members of the tribe live in Jackson County, the second highest membership behind Coos County.
The Cow Creek tribe, based in Canyonville, where it operates the Seven Feathers Casino, has voiced its opposition to the Medford casino plan.
The Cow Creek tribe maintains the Coquilles don’t have a legitimate historical claim to reservation land in Medford and say Medford-area residents are Seven Feathers’ single largest group of customers. North Bend is about 175 driving miles from Medford, while the distance to Canyonville is slightly more than 70 miles.
Medford officials will hold a work session on Tuesday and a public hearing on Thursday.
Over the objection of some councilors, City Attorney John Huttl has asked for an executive session to discuss legal strategies over the Coquille proposal in private.
Councilors have previously objected to the number of executive sessions held.
“I don’t see any need for an executive session here,” Councilor Chris Corcoran said Thursday. “All debate should be done in front of the public.”
Councilor Dan Bunn said he would like to hear what the attorney has to say about legal options concerning the casino, but noted the council has the right to end the executive session and make it public.
Bunn said the casino question is an area of law he is not familiar with, so he appreciated any legal information that could be provided.
Councilor Bob Strosser said he thought an executive session would be entirely appropriate to discuss legal strategies.
But Councilor John Michaels also expressed concern about granting Huttl’s request for an executive session.
“I would term this as a short leash,” he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.