North Fork Mono Indians Battle for a Casino

March 7, 2008 9:12:03 PM PST
Valley residents are about to join the fight over the plan to build a giant casino, right off Highway 99.Station casinos and the North Fork Mono Tribe are pushing to take up about 60 acres, just west of the freeway and south of Avenue 18. That's almost 50 miles west of traditional lands in North Fork.

It's shaping up to be a big battle, but here's why North Fork Mono Indians think they have a good chance to win. They're officially a tribe with no land, so they're allowed to buy whatever land they want for a casino.

The tribe also has at least some historical connection to the land that could eventually look like a little piece of Las Vegas.

A half-million square foot casino, a two-hundred room hotel, three restaurants, and nearly 15-hundred permanent jobs, the North Fork Mono Indians want to bring them all to Madera County, on a piece of prime real estate.

"This is the land they want to use to build the casino. It's 305 acres of mostly open space, with easy access to Highway 99."

The casino is expected to be a sure hit, drawing customers from up and down 99, and bringing business to much of Madera County. But a new environmental study says it would also bring 10 tons of pollution every year.

The tribe has already worked out a deal with Madera County, the City of Madera, and the local irrigation district. They're paying about five million dollars a year for new firefighters and police officers, and to make up for the environmental impact.

Davis-Van Huss, North Fork Mono Rancheria: "We're playing by the rules. We are playing by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. We are doing everything in a transparent, collaborative manner."

The tribe expects the casino to generate up to 50 million dollars in new spending in Madera County every year. That's a lot of money for the area, and for a tribe that's been pretty poor since the last saw mill closed in North Fork.

Jacquie Davis-Van Huss, North Fork Mono Rancheria: "We're not building the facility to get rich. We're building the facility to bring our tribe up to the same standard of living everybody else has."

But many of the neighbors aren't enthusiastic about the visitors and the expansion of development.

Ed Letourneau, Neighbor to Proposed Casino: "This area would probably grow up and put me in town and with my business I can't be that close to town. So, I'm sure I'd have to move."

Veterinarian Ed Letourneau says the casino's sunny future clouds his own future.

He says the only good thing about the casino is that, if he does have to move, at least his property will be more valuable.

There's a public hearing about the casino next Wednesday at the Madera Fairgrounds. If the bureau of Indian affairs and the governor sign off after that, construction could begin early next year.


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