By Mike Lamb
BARSTOW – A proposed $160 million casino and resort off Lenwood Road near Interstate 15 has been cleared of any major negative impact on the environment by the U.S. Department of Interior.
The final environmental impact statement released Friday, which must proceed through a 30-day comment period, represents a major hurdle cleared in the 12-year effort to build the complex with 57,000 square feet of gaming space.
The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians has been seeking to build the casino on about 23 acres of land near the Tanger Outlet mall for years.
Barstow Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre said she was thrilled.
“This is a a significant step in the process, and we are hopeful the BIA (Bureau of Indians Affairs) will work expeditiously to issue a final decision on the tribe’s application for this land so this important project can be made a reality,” Hackbarth-McIntyre said in a statement released by the Los Coyotes Band. “Our city has a very close working relationship with the tribe, one that has been memorialized in a long-standing Memorandum of Agreement. I cannot underscore strongly enough how important this economic development project is to the revitalization of Barstow and the surrounding region.”
The project to build a casino off of Indian reservation land is part of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It specifically allows a federally recognized tribe to apply to have land taken into trusts so that it can be used for Indian gaming if the Department of Interior determines that it would be beneficial to the tribe and not detrimental to the surrounding community. The governor also would have to sign off on the project.
The Los Coyotes reservation, according to tribe, is located in a remote area in the hills near Warner’s Hot Springs, about 70 miles from San Diego. It is sandwiched between the Cleveland National Forest and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park of San Diego County with excessively steep, rugged terrain, resulting in extremely limited infrastructure and very difficult living conditions.
Shane Chapparosa, chairman of the Los Coyotes Band, also welcomed Friday’s news, but remained guarded.
“It’s an exciting milestone to get to,” Chapperosa said. “We still have a lot of work to do. It took us 12 years to get to this point. Now we have to take the next step. … We can’t let our guard down. We have to work twice as hard now.”
The impact statement estimated that the Los Coyotes casino project would bring in $160 million in investments to Barstow, as well as 1,000 construction jobs. Once operating, the casino would be expected to produce $126 million in annual revenue and support 1,085 jobs in the community.
The complex would be located on Lenwood Road across the street from the Hampton Inn.
“This is a very good site,” said Barstow City Manager Curt Mitchell. “It’s away from all the schools. It has good access. It’s a terrific location for this project.”
Mitchell said he was also encouraged by the news from the Interior Department.
“This is an important step in the process,” he said. “This has been a long time coming. There’s a good partnership with the tribe and city, so we are happy with that. Hopefully this thing will move quickly.”
Mitchell says the process is now in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs “and we will see what happens.” He said there is no specific time frame, “but we will continue to encourage them to make a decision as quick as possible.”
The tribe first submitted its application in 2006. The Department of Interior held public hearings in Barstow in May 2006 and July 2011.
The report consists of three volumes of information listing environmental consequences, mitigation measures from water usage, drainage, traffic, noise, and financial costs and impact. A few points made in the report:
• The tribe shall work in good faith with the city to employ qualified Barstow residents at the tribe’s resort facilities. The tribe shall offer training programs to assist city residents in becoming qualified for positions at the resort.
• The tribe will make a one-time payment to the city of $40,000 for the establishment of a problem gambling fund. Thereafter, the tribe shall make annual contributions to the city in the amount of $40,000 to help fund local problem gaming diversion/assistance/counseling programs.
• The tribe agrees to pay the city amounts equal to the service, development, and impact fees which, if the parcels were not in trust status, would be charged by the city and other local agencies at the time of any and all project development(s) on trust lands (including payments to the city and the Barstow Fire Protection District). The tribe shall also make payments to the Barstow Unified School District equal to the service, development, and impact fees.
• The tribe has agreed to pay all required traffic mitigation fees consistent with the city’s fee programs and ordinances and pay for all road improvements that are reasonable and necessary.
• The city agrees to provide police services including but not limited to 24-hour patrol, response to emergency 911 calls, and general investigation for major crimes. The Police Department would have the authority to enforce all non-gaming state criminal laws on the proposed trust lands. Additionally, the tribe would employ security personnel and provide surveillance throughout the proposed facilities. Security personnel would work cooperatively with the Barstow Police Department.
To see the complete report, go to loscoyoteseis.com/documents/final_eis-teir/report.htm. The report also is available for viewing at the Barstow library, 304 E. Buena Vista. Any comments on the final environmental impact statement must be received by Amy Dutschke, Regional Director, Pacific Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825 by May 19.
Originally posted by the Desert Dispatch