After nearly a decade of rigorous planning, the finale major hurdle for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians has been cleared that will allow the tribe to build its $350 million casino on Highway 99, north of Madera.
The assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs made a final agency determination to acquire about 305 acres of land in trust for gaming purposes for the tribe on Nov. 26. Notice of the decision will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, Dec. 3.
Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburns decision represents the final step in the lengthy federal process established by Congress to qualify newly acquired trust lands for tribal gaming in very limited circumstances. The tribe initiated the fee to trust process in 2004 to overcome numerous historical circumstances that left the 1,900-member North Fork Rancheria without a viable land base from which to improve its tribal economy.
The decision comes three months after Governor Jerry Brown concurred with the September 2011 determination by the secretary of the interior that gaming on the newly acquired trust lands would be in the best interest of the tribe and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community.
We are delighted with this decision, said Elaine Bethel-Fink, tribal chairperson. It brings our tribe one step closer to realizing our generations-long dream of helping our people and our community by creating jobs, business opportunities and community investment. We pursued this process to restore and rebuild our tribe and its land base in a transparent and collaborative manner. Throughout the process we adhered strictly to the letter and spirit of the law. With the land decision now settled, we will continue to work closely with our local, state, and federal representatives to ensure the best possible project for the tribe, region and the state of California.
Bethel-Fink also expressed her appreciation for the decision made by the Department of the Interior, and said the tribe knows it wasnt an easy one to make.
Although the tribe fought through opposition from other tribes with casinos who fear the competition, the mono tribes strong support and partnerships were critical to North Forks successful land-in-trust petition. Along with the tribes historical connection to the site, local support was specifically recognized in both the Department of Interiors initial two-part determination and in Browns subsequent concurrence.
In his letter to the Secretary of the Interior, Brown specifically cited North Forks exceptional circumstances as a basis for his decision to approve the project.
The North Fork tribe has negotiated binding agreements with the County and City of Madera as well as the local water district, promising to mitigate potential impacts and provide more than $5 million annually in community funding for schools, roads, parks, public safety, economic development, and local charities, among other public programs and services. The tribe has also signed important labor agreements and agreed to provide substantial funding to non-gaming tribes throughout the state.
This tribe worked tirelessly from the beginning to bring all parties to the table I know because I was part of the original tribal negotiation committee back in 2004, said Ronn Dominici, chairman of the Madera County Board of Supervisors. Its no surprise at all that both the governor and Department of the Interior have now approved the project and land. Now its time for everyone to come together to bring jobs and economic growth to Madera County. We cannot afford any further unnecessary and costly delays.
This has always been more than a tribal project this has been a community project from the start, said Bethel-Fink. Our tribe is so grateful for the outpouring of support and personal endorsements from local business chambers, labor unions, civic groups, tribes and nearly 6,000 private citizens.
Charlie Banks-Altekruse, community relations director for the tribe, said if there are no further delays or attempts to slow down the process, the best case scenario could have the tribe breaking ground early in 2013.
This project represents $100,000 annually in economic benefit to the region, said Banks-Altekruse.
He said that every day the project is not up and running, about $300,000 is lost from the economy.
Details: ofr.gov/inspection.aspx search under North Fork Rancheria.