Board approves casino MOU

Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino may be closer to reopening after a revised Memorandum of Understanding was unanimously approved by the Madera County Board of Supervisors last week.

In the new agreement, the tribe agrees to pay more than $1.2 million to the county, as well as $1 million annual payments delayed the last two years.

A point of contention between supervisors and tribal leaders, during a rushed special meeting held the day before Thanksgiving, was additional staffing for a new firefighting apparatus the county wants the tribe to purchase. The expected cost for the new fire engine is around $1 million.

The area’s current fire truck cannot reach all 11 floors of the casino, which caused discomfort to county supervisors because even if a new engine is purchased, without proper staffing, it could be little benefit.

“If we have a fire, you have to think about your people, citizens, and the public’s safety,” District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler said to tribal council member Dora Jones and the council’s attorney John Peebles.

“It does make me a little uncomfortable as we don’t have the apparatus of size and staff to fulfill the needs of the area,” Cal Fire Unit Chief Nancy Koerperich added. “Having no staffing does nothing at all.”

To properly staff the engine with three firefighters for 24 hours a day, as per state requirements, would cost about an additional $1 million a year.

Tribal leaders said fire safety concerns weren’t behind the casino’s federal shutdown in October last year, after an armed raid.

They said the tribe’s primary goal is to get the casino reopened for the county’s benefit, without additional payments.

“We’re putting forward every effort to come together with you,” tribal council member Morris Reid said. “What you’re asking for is extra cost. And there’s nothing in that MOU that gives you the right to ask for that cost ... this is like killing the golden goose before it lays the golden eggs. We want to make this work so everyone in the community can benefit.”

Peebles and tribal leaders, as well as the supervisors, agreed to open negotiations on fire staffing in February next year. Peebles said he’d send a letter to the county promising those negotiations.

The fire station, Indian Lakes No. 8, is about a mile from the casino.

In other sections of the agreement, the county wants the tribe to pay for a 24-hour deputy sheriff presence at a cost of up to $318,518 after the casino reopens.

Video of the Nov. 28 special meeting:

Before the casino can reopen, it must get approval from both federal and state agencies.