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County will help gauge proposed casino's impacts

Jackson County will have a say in the analysis of the potential impacts of a proposed casino in Medford.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize a memorandum of understanding with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The agreement allows county officials to have input during the creation of an environmental impact statement analyzing a broad range of potential positive and negative impacts.

Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said a casino in Medford could increase public safety issues, impacting the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, the county jail and the sheriff's office. Other impacts could include more traffic, increased gambling addiction and a strain on nonprofit organizations that provide a variety of services.

"We want to make sure all of those are addressed," he said.

Jackson County and the city of Medford have agreed to be cooperating agencies with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in creation of the EIS.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said the term "cooperating agency" has created confusion for some residents. The county is not cooperating in support of the casino proposal, but rather cooperating to provide information about potential impacts.

"It gives us a seat at the table," she said.

The Coquille Indian Tribe, which operates a casino north of Coos Bay, is proposing to build a casino along Highway 99 in south Medford near Harry & David. The tribe would convert the current Roxy Ann bowling alley and former Kim's restaurant site into a casino with video gambling machines.

The Coquille tribe says a Medford casino would create more than 200 local jobs and raise money to fund tribal health care, education and housing programs.

But the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe, which runs Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, counters that a Medford casino would lead to layoffs at its operations and cuts to its tribal programs that provide child care, clothing, energy bill assistance, food and other services.

The Cow Creek Band issued a statement in support of Jackson County entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide input as the EIS is being drafted.

"If the Coquille were allowed to move forward with this casino, Oregon's current gaming landscape would change dramatically," Cow Creek Chief Executive Officer Michael Rondeau said. "Proliferation of gaming would result."

The Cow Creek Band said the Rogue Valley is not within the Coquille Tribe's territory. The Coquilles have said they have members in the Rogue Valley as well as the Coos Bay area and that the Rogue Valley is recognized as part of the tribe's service area.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs public comment period about the proposed casino closed in February. Another public comment period will open when a draft EIS 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.