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Medford pans casino study

Medford officials have criticized a federal Coquille Indian Tribe casino study for failing to adequately address crime, transportation, economic impacts and alternative locations and for opening the door to more tribal gaming in Oregon.

“Establishing this precedent would make it more likely that the tribe and other similarly situated tribes will pursue such developments in the future,” according to a May 9 letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs written by City Attorney Lori Cooper.

The city's letter was a response to an administrative draft environmental study of the Coquille's proposed Medford casino.

The proposal calls for building a casino called Cedars at Bear Creek 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 environmental study, which is about 2,500 pages, has not been released to the public, and has been distributed only for administrative review to “cooperating agencies” such as the city of Medford and Jackson County.

Brenda Meade, chairwoman of the Coquille tribe, said her tribe has spent many years trying to get approval for the Medford casino. She said each tribe has its own restoration act or treaty that makes siting a casino a difficult process.

“Proliferation of gaming is not an easy thing,” she said. “Every tribe is different.”

Medford took issue with the BIA for failing to include other issues raised earlier by the city regarding the casino, including concerns about traffic.

“Nor does the DEIS indicate why BIA rejected the city’s comments,” Cooper stated.

The city's letter faulted the study for failing to find reasonable alternative sites for a casino other than the preferred site in south Medford.

One alternative in Phoenix is outside the urban growth boundary and would not have Rogue Valley Sewer Services and Medford Water Commission services to the proposed site.

“Therefore, MWC cannot provide water services to the Phoenix site and is not a viable/reasonable alternative,” Cooper stated.

Crime would increase as a result of the casino, but the tribe proposes mitigating the increase by paying the city for increased emergency service needs, according to the city.

Cooper said the study should have done a better job explaining how crime and other emergency calls would increase prior to considering the mitigation measures.

A transportation analysis looks mainly at the effects of casinos in more rural areas, not in an urban setting such as Medford. Medford officials suggested analyzing a casino in San Pablo, Calif., as a better example.

Without a better analysis, Cooper said, the traffic rates cited in the study could be skewed on the low side.

The city letter also criticized the study for failing to adequately look at economic impacts, including the impact to state lottery revenue.

“The DEIS also fails to give any estimate of the possible range of increases in societal problems that may result from the proposed casino, including divorce, suicide, crime, prostitution, bankruptcy and demand for social services,” the letter states.

Meade said she was encouraged that the city had raised its concerns because it is one more step in a very lengthy analysis.

“That’s the great part about this process is that every concern will be addressed and mitigated,” she said. “We’re glad to see the city is looking at things we hoped they would look at.”

Meade said the BIA asked her tribe to go out and find other alternative sites for study, though she said the tribe doesn’t own any of the other properties that were analyzed.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler in March 2015 expressed concern about the contractor, Analytical Environmental Services, which was hired by the BIA to prepare the environmental study.

According to Wheeler, the Coquille tribe is a client of Analytical Environmental Services, which presents a conflict of interest.

Meade said the BIA hired Analytical Environmental Services, but she said her tribe will ultimately get the bill to pay for the environmental study.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Artist rendering of Cedars at Bear Creek, a proposed casino at the former Kim's restaurant site on Highway 99 in Medford. Drawing courtesy of the Coquille Indian Tribe