One Oregon tribe is once again attempting to build a casino in Medford.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) now seeks public input for the project as it drafts an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the project’s website, the public can comment to the BIA until Feb. 23. The Coquille Tribe will host one more virtual public hearing:
- What: Second public hearing for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Coquille Indian Tribe Fee-to-Trust and Gaming Facility Project
- When: 5:30 p.m. PST Jan. 31
- How to Attend: Coquille EIS public hearing registration link
A virtual public hearing will be held on December 15, 2022, starting at 6:00 p.m., and will run until the last public comment is received. Please go to the following link to register to attend the public hearing: Coquille EIS Public Hearing Registration.
A second virtual public hearing will be held on January 31, 2023, starting at 5:30 p.m., and will run until the last public comment is received. It should be noted that the BIA will not be presenting any new or updated information in the second hearing beyond the topics covered in the first hearing, held on December 15, 2022. Please go to the following link to register to attend the second public hearing: Coquille EIS Second Public Hearing Registration.
What happened in 2020?
Roughly eight years ago, the Coquille Tribe made a push on its Medford casino project before it was inevitably denied by the BIA. The site — on land purchased by the tribe — was at 2375 S. Pacific Highway.
Tabbed the Cedars at Bear Creek Casino, the proposed location would have been a Class II casino. The designation means it would have video gaming devices (think slot machines) but no table games.
The decision came as somewhat of a surprise to the Coquille Tribe at the time. Instead of waiting through a period for public comment and consideration of an environmental report, the BIA landed on a decision. Tribe chairman Brenda Meade told the Mail Tribune:
“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.”
Coquille casino a no-go due to ‘jurisdictional’ problem
John Tahsuda, the principal deputy assistant secretary of Indian affairs, explained in a letter why he didn’t see the tribe’s plans fit.
One of Tahsuda’s main reasons for shutting down the project was the distance between the tribe’s reservation and the proposed trust land. In his letter, he noted a 170-mile difference between the two, calling it a “jurisdictional problem.”
Additionally, Tahsuda noted that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the city of Medford opposed the project soon after the proposal came to fruition. It’s worth noting that over time, the city began to lighten its stance on the proposed casino, but ultimately didn’t sign on.
Umpqua tribe also against the 2020 casino
In an email to the Mail Tribune, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians chairman Dan Courtney said the tribe opposed efforts to circumvent federal and state gambling laws:
“The Interior Department was correct to stop this project. This was never a dispute we wanted to have with a sister tribe. We want all Oregon Tribes to be able to provide economic opportunities and governmental services for their members and communities.”
Former governor opposed Medford casino
Back in 2016, when talks of a Medford casino arose, former Gov. Kate Brown expressed her apprehension about the project.
Brown wrote in a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
“I believe that the state should, as a matter of policy, resist the building of additional casinos because state support for even a single, modest additional casino is likely to lead to significant efforts to expand gaming across Oregon to the detriment of the public welfare.”
It’s worth noting, though, that Brown is no longer governor. Oregonians elected Tina Kotek in November. There’s optimism that a shift in power could potentially result in a different outcome than in 2020’s bid.
Coquille tribe already operates one Oregon casino
In North Bend, the tribe already operates the Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park. The 24-hour casino boasts more than 700 slot machines and table games. In addition to an RV park, the hotel includes more than 200 waterfront rooms near the Oregon Coast.