MEDFORD, Ore. — The Coquille Tribe of Oregon's southern coast expressed shock and anger on Thursday night after a decision by officials with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny their proposal to build a casino in Medford.
The casino project, dubbed The Cedars at Bear Creek, would have been located along S Pacific Highway in south Medford at the former site of Kim's Restaurant. Debate over the proposal has gone on for years.
(Photo courtesy of The Cedars at Bear Creek / Facebook)
Coquille Tribal Chairman Brenda Meade called the ruling a “complete disregard for the federally mandated decision process,” criticising the Bureau of Indian Affairs for its "abrupt" decision to no longer consider the tribe's application to take that land into trust.
“Instead of a fair and open process, this agency has turned to the hidden, back-room dealing that is the hallmark of an overly political process – a process that federal law repeatedly has tried to prevent,” Meade said.
According to the Coquille Tribe, they received the decision in a May 27 letter from Indian Affairs principal deputy assistant secretary John Tahsuda. According to Meade, the decision "ignored the government's own established procedures" to ensure that gaming decisions are based on fact instead of politics.
“By ending the normal, fact-based process for making trust land decisions, Tahsuda has silenced the many people in the community who are supporting our efforts,” Meade said. “He also is denying our local officials the opportunity to express their growing appreciation for the tribe’s work in the community and their interest in pursuing economic development on this property. They all were promised that their voices would be heard every step of the way.”
The Coquille Tribe has tried to gain an environmental assessment of the proposal since 2012, but federal officials have declined to move forward.
The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe, which operates Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, has long opposed the Coquille Tribe project.
“The Interior Department was correct to stop this project. This was never a dispute we wanted to have with a sister Tribe," said Dan Courtney, Cow Creek Tribal Board chairman. "We want all Oregon Tribes to be able to provide economic opportunities and governmental services for their members and communities. But we also have long opposed any effort to circumvent federal or state gaming laws. With this behind us we are now focused on identifying opportunities that advance all Oregon Tribes and communities together as one.”
The Cedars at Bear Creek was supposed to be a Class II casino on 2.42 acres of land in south Medford. A Class II casino allows video gaming devices, but no table games such as blackjack or dice. According to the Coquille Tribe, the proposed site is surrounded by several tribal parcels that it still hopes to develop for other commercial uses.