Last month the Bureau of Indian Affairs gave the OK for gaming at the Tule River Reservation’s proposed casino in Porterville, moving the project one step closer to reality.
On October 7, the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs signed a Record of Decision (ROD) and issued a Secretarial Determination of gaming eligibility pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the 40-acre Airpark Site. The 40-acre site is located directly east of West Street, south of Highway 190 and west of Highway 65. Governor Gavin Newsom must still give his approval as well.
In addition, a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) / Tribal Environmental Impact Report (TEIR) has been prepared to analyze the potential environmental consequences of the Tule River Reservation’s application for a proposed 40-acre fee-to-trust transfer and casino relocation project in the city limits of Porterville near the Porterville Municipal Airport.
The proposed trust property includes 17 parcels, bound by West Street on the west, the City of Porterville OHV Park to the north and east, and a solar farm to the south. The proposed casino resort would include an approximately 105,000 square foot casino, an approximately 250-room hotel, approximately 36,000 square feet of food and beverage facilities, administrative space, a multi-purpose events center, a conference center, and associated parking and infrastructure. The new casino resort would replace the Tule River Reservation’s existing casino, and the existing casino buildings would be converted to tribal government or service uses.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the federal agency that’s charged with reviewing and approving tribal applications to take land into federal trust status and is Lead Agency for the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Tule River Reservation expects to enter into a new Class III gaming compact with the State of California for the relocated casino.
Based on the requirements of other recent Tribal-State gaming compacts in California, it’s expected the Tribal-State gaming compact will require the Tule River Reservation to serve as Lead Agency in the preparation a Tribal Environmental Impact Report (TEIR) to analyze the potential off-reservation environmental impacts of the proposed casino resort. To eliminate redundancy and reduce paperwork, the EIS and TEIR have been prepared in coordination, resulting in a joint EIS/TEIR.
The BIA issued a Notice of Intent on December 30, 2016 which opened a 30-day public scoping period to identify potential issues, concerns, and alternatives to be considered in the EIS. The scoping period ended on January 30, 2017. A public scoping meeting was held on January 23, 2017 at the Porterville Veterans Hall. A Scoping Report is available which describes the EIS process, explains the purpose and need for the Proposed Action, describes the Proposed Project and alternatives, and summarizes the issues identified during the scoping process. Appendices to the Scoping Report include all comment letters received by the BIA and the public hearing transcript.
A Notice of Availability for the Draft EIS was published in the Federal Register on September 21, 2018. Comments on the Draft EIS or Draft Conformity Determination were due on November 5, which was the final day of the 45-day comment period.
The Notice of Availability of the Final EIS was published in the Federal Register and in the Porterville Recorder on May 31. The Final Conformity Determination was also issued on May 31. The 30-day waiting period ended on July 1.
“The City of Porterville is very pleased with the recent Secretarial Determination by the Department of the Interior to allow the transfer of the Tule River Tribe’s 40-acre property near the Porterville Municipal Airport into trust for gaming purposes in support of the proposed relocation of Eagle Mountain Casino,” said Porterville City Manager John Lollis. “The City and the Tribe possess a strong collaborative relationship which led to an agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding for the proposed casino relocation, and together we urge and support Governor Newsom’s approval for the proposed relocation.”
The BIA issued its secretarial determination that the Eagle Mountain Casino relocation is beneficial to the Tule River Tribe and the community. The Bureau also issued a letter to Governor Newsom requesting his concurrence on the matter.
“After years of hard work, the federal government moved the Tribe’s casino relocation one step closer to making this dream a reality,” said Chairman Neil Peyron.
To relocate the casino, federal law also requires that the Governor concurs with the Bureau’s findings. The Governor has up to one year to act on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ determination.
In the letter to the Governor, the BIA cited the Tribe’s economic conditions and lack of water as key reasons for the relocation. The Bureau also noted the support of local governments and the city/tribal partnership to develop a tertiary treatment facility.
“The Tribe has been keeping the Governor’s Office apprised of the relocation,” said Peyron. “We look forward to meeting with Governor Newsom and completing the two-part process.”
The Tule River Tribe proposed the casino relocation due to economic reasons and to address water supply issues on the Reservation. The project will create hundreds of construction jobs and millions in annual wages. Following the construction, the casino and hotel will nearly double its existing workforce.
The Tribe faces water restrictions and drought annually, which has led to a building moratorium on its tribal lands. With the casino relocation, the Tribal Council will be able to reallocate its water resources, which could lead to more than 100 new homes being built on the Reservation. The existing casino will be repurposed for educational, health care and Tribal governance and will also provide food and restaurant options for Tribal members.
The project, which includes the development of a tertiary water treatment facility, will have a net-zero impact on the region’s potable water.
“The proposed casino relocation will benefit our Tribe and tribal members, customers, employees, as well as the local community,” said Peyron.
The proposed casino relocation is located on lands owned by the Tribe in fee for more than 25 years and is currently used for governmental offices. The Tribe’s ancestral ties to the proposed site date back to time immemorial.