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Local officials get more say on casino proposal

The city of Medford and Jackson County are becoming cooperating agencies with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on a review of impacts from a proposed Medford casino — steps that will give local government more say on the controversial issue.

"It gives us a seat at the table," said Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Doug Breidenthal. "They will listen to what we have to say. They don't necessarily have to do it, but it gives us that ability to have the conversation."

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze a range of impacts from the Coquille Indian Tribe's proposal to build a casino along Highway 99 in south Medford. The tribe would convert the current Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's restaurant into a casino with video gambling machines.

The Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to become a cooperating agency after receiving an invitation letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Medford City Attorney Lori Cooper said the city also received a letter and is moving forward with plans to become a cooperating agency.

"It gives the city more of a government-to-government relationship, rather than a citizen-to-government relationship," she said. "It provides local governments with a bit more say than the average citizen."

Under federal regulations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs could also ask cooperating agencies to develop information and do some analysis for the Environmental Impact Statement's review of casino impacts if those cooperating agencies have special expertise on issues.

The review will cover a wide array of potential impacts, including noise, traffic, water use, socioeconomic concerns, use of public services and the project's potential to fuel growth.

Along with many elected local, state and congressional representatives, Medford officials have voiced a number of concerns about possible negative impacts from the casino.

County officials have raised concerns that a casino could increase addictive behavior and strain the Jackson County Jail, the District Attorney's Office, the transportation system and more.

The Coquille tribe, which operates a casino north of Coos Bay, has said the casino will bring jobs to Medford and stimulate the Rogue Valley economy.

The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe, which runs Seven Feathers Casino Resort near Roseburg, has argued a Medford casino would harm its business, lead to layoffs and cause cuts to assistance programs funded by casino revenue.

Two new commissioners joined the three-member Jackson County Board of Commissioners in January after winning in the November election. Breidenthal, the senior member of the board, said commissioners will have a discussion about where they stand on the casino issue.

Medford City Council will discuss marijuana regulations and the casino during a study session at noon Thursday in the Medford Room of City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St.

Written comments from the public to the Bureau of Indian Affairs about the casino proposal were due by  Feb. 17. There will be more opportunity for public input, including when the Environmental Impact Statement is released.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.