Showing their hand

Coquille tribe deals with unexpected criticism of casino plan
Michelle Hammond, a 24-year-old Coquille Indian Tribe member who lives in Medford, supports the tribe’s plan to build a casino on land near the former Kim’s Restaurant. Kim’s will be razed for a parking lot under the proposal.Bob Pennell

The Coquille Indian Tribe has re-energized efforts to counter recent criticisms about a proposed $26 million casino that its representatives say would be a boost to the local economy.

"It's really a surprise to us that the city (of Medford) would be opposed to 233 new jobs," said Larry Campbell, a former speaker of the Oregon House who stepped out of retirement to work for the tribe.

The casino, known as The Cedars at Bear Creek, would be built at the still operating Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and at the former Kim's Restaurant on South Pacific Highway in south Medford.

It also would 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. The Kim's building would be razed to build a parking lot.

The Coquille tribe runs The Mill Casino in North Bend.

The tribe acknowledged it was caught off guard by the negative reaction to the casino from Medford and Jackson County officials.

"We were just not prepared," said Judy Metcalf, project manager for the tribe.

The tribe has assembled a team of local consultants, including John Watt and Rick Moir, president of Lanphier Associates of Medford, both of whom have worked with local officials and agencies over the years.

The tribe has created glossy brochures extolling the casino concept and addressing various criticisms leveled at the proposal. Officials in North Bend and Coos Bay have sent letters to local officials praising the casino.

According to the tribe, wages at the casino will be 18 percent higher than the average wage in Jackson County. The average wage at The Cedars would be $41,416 a year, compared to the county average of $35,148, a number the tribe obtained from the Oregon Employment Department.

A survey conducted by the tribe indicates that 59 percent of respondents were strongly in favor of the casino and 10 percent strongly opposed. Details of the survey, including questions asked, were not immediately available.

Metcalf said the tribe is in the very early stages of a two- to three-year federal process that will allow plenty of time for local reaction.

She said the tribe believes it is on solid legal ground in its attempt to declare the Medford property a sovereign nation, citing the federal Coquille Restoration Act that specifically cites the counties of Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson and Lane as being within the tribal area.

In addition, Jackson County has the second highest number of Coquille tribal members, at 100; Coos Bay has the highest. Tribal Chief Ken Tanner lives in Ashland.

Metcalf said that even though the land within Medford would be considered a sovereign nation, local emergency personnel would have the right to enter the premises.

"Police officers have permission to come on tribal land," Metcalf said.

The tribe's decision to establish a gaming facility in the Medford market was prompted by many reasons, she said.

The coastal economy surrounding North Bend has resulted in relatively flat earnings.

Half the membership in the tribe is under 30 and the tribe expects its numbers to rise in the coming years.

She said the tribe faces a $1 million shortfall because its needs have increased while its earnings haven't kept pace.

The tribe provides its members with opportunities for education, health and senior services, Metcalf said.


The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians has warned of a tribal casino arms race if the Coquilles succeed in located a gaming facility in Medford.

Metcalf said she disputes that claim because the restoration act for the Cow Creeks allows the tribe to build a casino only north of Agness on the Rogue River, not south in Jackson County.

Susan Ferris, spokeswoman for the Cow Creek, said she would need more time to address Metcalf's assertions but stood by the tribe's earlier fear of a tribal arms war.

"If all of a sudden one tribe has more than one casino, why wouldn't other tribes think they would be similarly entitled?" she said. "It defies logic."

One of the criticisms of the Coquille tribe is that its proposal breaks a so-called compact created years ago by Gov. John Kitzhaber that limits each tribe to one casino.

Currently in Oregon there are nine federally recognized Class III casinos, which allow such games as craps, roulette, blackjack, other table games and video gaming.

The Coquilles propose a more modest, Class II gaming operation in Medford, which would feature video games that have some differences but resemble slot machines.

Kitzhaber has criticized the Coquille's proposal because of fears the tribe eventually would convert the Class II Medford gaming facility into a full-fledged Class III facility.

The Coquilles cite the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs that have a Class III casino as well as a Kah-Nee-Tah Resort, which features Class II games. The resort has 30 video games compared to more than 500 proposed at the Medford facility.

The tribe claims it doesn't want to create a Class III facility, citing competition from the Cow Creek tribe to the north and the Karuk Tribe's casino under construction near Yreka, Calif.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler said he hasn't received a copy of the Coquille brochures and hasn't yet discussed the issue with the new local representatives for the tribe.

He said the city is still waiting for a response regarding letters it sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressing concern about the impacts to the local water system, storm drains, sewers, traffic, parks, fire, police and other emergency services.

The Coquilles provide $425,000 annually to police, fire and other services in the North Bend area.

The tribe has indicated it would agree to provide Medford with some additional support, though Larry Campbell said the North Bend casino hasn't resulted in any significant increase in crime.

Campbell said a Class II gaming facility, which has surveillance equipment, should produce even fewer problems. He said that most of the time security personnel take care of issues before the local police arrive.

Michelle Hammond, a 24-year-old tribal member who lives in Medford, said the casino would help create more outreach programs for the tribe locally.

She said her mother had to move to North Bend to work in the education program for the tribe.

"It would be just nice to have our home away from home here," Hammond said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.



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