The Medford City Council is opposing an effort by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to speed up the process for tribes seeking to open casinos.
"It makes it so we don't have a voice in the process," said Councilor Dan Bunn, who joined other councilors today in approving a letter of opposition to be sent to the BIA.
The council previously has voiced its opposition to a Coquille Indian Tribe proposal to place land in southern Medford into trust as part of long-range plans to build a casino.
At issue is the BIA's proposed rule change, which, according to Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, would give the assistant secretary authority to proceed with taking land into trust with no waiting period.
In a statement on the proposed rule change, Washburn said it would create a "speak now or forever hold your peace moment" in the land-into-trust process.
According to the BIA, the placement of land into trust is similar to a change in ownership of a property. Once approval is received for property to be placed in trust, it can become part of the tribe's reservation land.
After land is placed in trust, the burden would fall to opponents to mount a legal challenge to show how placing the land in trust would be harmful.
The BIA has proposed the rule change to provide greater assurances to tribes that need land for non-gaming activities such as school, housing and gaming.
The Coquille tribe purchased the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and former Kim's Restaurant on South Pacific Highway in south Medford and has agreed to lease the nearby Bear Creek Golf Course.
The Coquille tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property, excluding the golf course, in a government trust. In addition, the Coquilles have asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988. The Coquille tribe runs The Mill Casino in North Bend.
The letter from the city to the BIA describes the proposed rule as "very unfair to the public" and says will make it even more difficult for the public and local governments to follow a complex BIA process.
City Administrator Eric Swanson said the BIA proposal undermines the public's right to know and raises issues about the potential for a lack of transparency.
"This change takes away the ability to make a comment," he said.
The council also pushed to extend the comment period for the proposed rule change for 60 days past the July 29 deadline.
Medford has expressed concern about the casino's potential impacts to its water system, storm drains, sewers, traffic, parks, fire, police and other emergency services.
— Damian Mann
Read more in the Mail Tribune on Friday.