The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians' plans to build a casino on Highway 99 north of Madera got a small boost from a federal appellate court.
In one of a long string of rulings, a Washington, D.C., Circuit Court panel on April 10 stood by a decision to uphold a lower court’s ruling denying a challenge to the proposed casino. The panel reaffirmed an earlier ruling that the Interior Department had the authority to take the land into trust, and the project complied with federal laws.
The petition to stop the casino plan came from a group of individuals, organizations and surrounding casinos led by Stand Up For California. The group claimed that the land the proposed casino would sit on should have never been placed in trust for numerous reasons, one being that the "off-reservation" proposed casino is not on the tribal reservation in North Fork (about 35 miles away from the site adjacent to Highway 99).
But the D.C. panel disagreed: “After reviewing thousands of pages of evidence over the span of seven years, the Interior Department took the tract of land at issue into trust for the North Fork tribe and approved the tribe’s proposed casino,” the panel said. “Viewing the same extensive record and affording the appropriate measure of deference to the department’s supportable judgments, we, like the district court, conclude that this decision was reasonable and consistent with applicable law.”
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler has supported the project since its inception some 15 years ago, and has testified before government agencies many times on behalf of the tribe’s proposal which consists of a casino with 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games, a phased-in hotel and several restaurants.
“This decision is one more of many steps for the tribe to provide a great economic boost to Madera Country, especially for North Fork,” Wheeler said after hearing of the decision. “The Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the tribe and Madera County is one of the most generous in the state of California for mitigation of the increased impact of traffic, water, fire, and law enforcement.”
The tribe's spokesman, Charles Banks-Alterkruse, said the tribe has a long-standing policy not to comment on ongoing legal matters beyond saying the tribe is pleased with this interim decision.
It is likely this decision could once again be appealed. A spokesperson for Stand Up For California was not available for comment.