The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians broke ground Jan. 30 on a long-delayed gas station and retail service center at the northeast corner of Highway 41 and Lucky Lane in Coarsegold.
“Chukchansi Crossing,” when completed as designed, will have 18 gasoline pumps, three fueling islands for buses and RVs, and two charging outlets for electric vehicles, as well as a car wash and retail center with plans for food service and a smoke shop.
Claudia Gonzales, chairwoman of the Chukchansi Tribal Council, said through work by MCS Construction, Inc. of Clovis, the station will create some 200 jobs during construction, then around 20 full-time positions when the facility opens.
She said along with the reopening of the tribe’s casino on Dec. 31, 2015, the station would further improve the lives of tribal members and people of the community.
“This is an important economic development project for our tribe,” said Gonzales said. “This is another promise fulfilled by the tribal council to provide new revenue streams to continue to reestablish its economic and cultural strength. The tribe looks forward to providing this service to the community and to expanding our employment for the region.”
Tom Wheeler, District 5 Madera County Supervisor, spoke to a crowd of around 50 at the ceremony how the jobs would create further growth.
“In North Fork, when we lost the sawmill we lost out on doctors, a dentist, banks, all sorts of things,” Wheeler said. “Think about that. And think about the jobs that will be offered here. They’re not just minimum wage jobs. I think this will be a great benefit for the whole area.”
Not everyone is pleased with the project, though, as Chukchansi Crossing can offer substantially lower fuel prices that others likely won’t be able to match.
Since the station will be located on sovereign tribal land near Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, it will sell gasoline without paying state or federal taxes, which could mean prices some 50 cents lower than competitors.
According to the California State Board of Equalization, the state’s excise tax rate for gasoline, not including diesel, is 30 cents per gallon, along with an additional 5 cents per gallon for sales and use taxes. On the federal level, the tax rate is 18.4 cents per gallon.
Sean Caffery, CEO of Chukchansi Sovereign Enterprises, didn’t provide a specific pricing range for when the new station opens.
“It won’t be the cheapest in the state, but we’ll price it fairly to the market,” Caffery said. “It will be at a discount, but it’ll be healthy competition. And I think competition is good for the market and we’re here to pass along the station’s economic benefits to the entire region.”
When Chukchansi Crossing was first proposed in the summer of 2010, Chet Shah, owner of the Chevron on Highway 41 less than a quarter mile north of Lucky Lane, said his business might be forced to close its doors.
“It’s going to be tough for us to stay in the business now,” Shah said that year. “This will affect everybody’s business from Coarsegold to Oakhurst. It’s kind of unfair because Chukchansi Crossing will be exempt from sales and other taxes that I have to pay.”
Shah did not return calls for comment.
Members of the Chukchansi tribe, employees, and possibly those in the casino’s rewards club will receive further discounts, Caffery added.
Wheeler again said he was happy for the tribe’s economic progress, but added those lower prices worried him.
“I like to see new businesses, and I don’t want to stop anyone from doing what they want to with their property,” Wheeler said. “But I’m worried about what these prices will be and the impact it’s going to have on the area.”
Diane Boland, president of the Coarsegold Chamber of Commerce, added her concerns.
“Right now, it’s tough,” Boland said. “Every small business is struggling and they’re concerned, just like we’re concerned, for all businesses in our community ... but there’s plenty of people to go around, you get millions of visitors to Yosemite coming this way each year, so I think there will be plenty of customers.”
Caffery said negotiations are underway with some possible tenants for dining and other services, though he wouldn’t specify whether the facility will have a restaurant or fast food outlet.
Construction is expected to begin in the next few weeks, Caffery said, with scheduled completion by the end of 2017.
The station will be accessed on Lucky Lane. Plans have been updated for additional drive-through windows and other modifications to alleviate traffic concerns, officials said.
Tribal Councilman Harold Hammond gave a prayer before the ceremony where he asked the Earth for forgiveness, saying the station would “upset the balance of nature.”
“Allow us to do this so we can help our people,” Hammond said. “Let us have unity for ourselves and our people. I ask that you bless us, bless our children, and our elders, and all the people in between.”
Other speakers scheduled at the event included David Rogers, District 2 Madera County Supervisor, Ron Marlette, an architect with Marlette Associates, and Craig McElfresh, Vice President of Operations for MCS Construction, Inc.
Tribe purchases Oakhurst property
On Tuesday, the tribe also announced it purchased six properties in Oakhurst, totaling 4.51 acres, to house the tribe’s government including health care, education, and tribal housing.
The tribal office has been located in north Fresno for the past three years.
The sale includes the Chapel Hill building (49260 Chapel Hill Drive), the old Madera County Sheriff’s Department substation on Fresno Flats Road Road (425B), and four adjacent undeveloped lots.
According to real estate listings, the total sales price for the 10,000 square-foot Chapel Hill building (on 1.12 acres, owned by Dr. Robert Jacques) and five other properties was $1.9 million. The escrow closed Jan. 30, and John Thor of Thor Commercial Real Estate Inc., broker/principal, represented Jacques in the sale.
“For some time, we have wanted to relocate our headquarters closer to tribal members and the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino,” Chairwoman Gonzales said. “We are glad to be home in Aposau, the original name of Oakhurst. Just like 2016, 2017 is starting out as a positive year for our tribe and the people in Madera.”
“Miller and White, a certified public accounting firm, will remain in their office at Chapel Hill,” according to firm partner Karen White.
Officials said the tribe plans to move into the properties in the near future.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Tuesday, Jan. 31 with information on the tribe’s purchase of Oakhurst properties to house tribal offices.