Mechoopda Casino Project Upheld in Federal Court
April 16, 2009

The Mechoopda Casino Project was challenged by Butte County in Federal court, however U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. dismissed the county’s suit yesterday. AES prepared the NEPA Environmental Assessment for the Tribe’s casino project.

Judge: County can’t stop casino
By ROGER H. AYLWORTH – Staff Writer

Posted: 04/14/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT

OROVILLE — After more than two years of legal briefs, arguments and counter-arguments, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has rejected a Butte County effort to block a Mechoopda casino on Highway 149, about a mile east of Highway 99.

Monday, representatives of the tribe and the county issued announcements that U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had dismissed the county’s suit.

Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert, in a press release, stated, “The proposed casino site on Highway 149 will have major public safety, traffic, environmental and groundwater impacts.

“For the past several years, the casino developer has simply refused to work with Butte County to find an alternative site. As a result, Butte County had no recourse other than this litigation.”

Throughout the entire process, the county maintained the lawsuit was about environmental concerns related to the tribe’s proposed casino site, and not an attack on the Mechoopda.

Even so, the suit, which was filed against the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, sought to persuade the court the agencies could not grant the Chico Rancheria Mechoopda the right to use the land because the Mechoopda did not qualify as a tribe.

Based on a study conducted in 2006 by Professor Stephen Dow Beckham, of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., the county lawsuit charged the Chico Rancheria unit of the Mechoopda Indians was not a tribe in any meaningful sense, but was an amalgamation of 11 groups that had little or nothing to do with the historic Mechoopda tribe.

The county claimed if the Chico Rancheria group was not a legitimate tribe, the federal agencies could not grant them the necessary authority to put a casino on the Highway 149 property.

“The court has considered the briefing, scoured the record, and pressed the parties on this issue during oral argument. Having done so, the court cannot find the county has done enough to justify setting aside the agencies’ actions here,” wrote Judge Kennedy in his decision.

Doug Elmets of Sacramento, the tribe’s spokesman, said the casino project is “alive and well.”

“This project has been in the process for many years despite the hurdles that have been thrown in its way, particularly by Butte County,” he said.

Elmets explained, from the tribe’s perspective, the next step will be to get the agreements with the state that will allow for gaming on the 645-acre site.

He also said it is far too early to discuss a target for groundbreaking.

The press release from the county said the possibility of an appeal is still being discussed.

As of the end of 2008, the litigation had cost the county nearly $322,800, according to records obtained by the tribe.

Elmets charged that was money “that was flushed down the drain on a frivolous lawsuit.”
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