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MailTribune.com
  • Showing their hand

    Coquille tribe deals with unexpected criticism of casino plan
  • 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.
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  • 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.
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