The Tule River Indian Tribe has discussed moving its Eagle Mountain Casino gaming center for years – in fact, for many of its 20 years of existence. But this time they are more organized and serious about the move.
According to a recent press release, “the Tule River Indian Tribe submitted an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to relocate its casino to aboriginal land owned by the Tribe within the City of Porterville. The BIA issued its Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement as part of the fee-to trust process which, if approved, will allow the casino to relocate.”
But, that is only one of several hurdles.
The tribe is working closely with Porterville, Tulare County and the State of California.
“It’s been a conversation for almost 15 years,” Porterville City Manager John Lollis said. “This is probably the most energy put in to it.”
The 40 acres of land for the proposed new casino, hotel and convention center is located next to the Porterville Airport. And while not located on reservation land, it is owned by the tribe where a dispatch center and some warehouses have been developed, Lollis said. There are two examples where other tribe-owned casinos have been built on off-reservation land, within California.
For the city, concerns are mostly with infrastructure including water, sewer and storm drains, he said.
“The approach the city has taken is as any other big business would be treated,” he said.
Porterville would ask for a hotel tax, like any other potential hotel would pay, as well as sales tax when applicable.
The potential site is next to the city’s sports complex, which currently utilizes potable water for watering the fields. However, the city is looking into the potential that the potable water could be instead hooked up for casino, hotel and restaurant use, and the fields could be watered with recycled water as is done with farming acreage the city owns, Lollis said.
The tribe would also maintain firefighting resources in the area, to help protect its investment, and that is something that could be shared, along with other aspects of public safety among the tribe, city and county.
These are concerns that the county shares, said Tulare County Supervisor Mike Ennis, including public safety. The county is also interested in seeing a complete traffic study and the potential affects the location would have on the roads, he said.
This is the first time the county has been brought to the table about the potential casino move, and Ennis is pleased, he said.
“They’re trying to include everyone, this time,” he said.
Ennis is also excited about the possibility of a convention center and new hotel.
“It’s fine – we could use that,” he said. “I think they are going about it the right way, this time.”
“The main reasoning for the considered move now, is a lack of water on the reservation from the drought, and safety is always an issue,” said Tribal Council Chairman Neil Peyron.
The drive up the mountain has long been a cause for concern, where accidents are not an uncommon occurrence.
But the tribe has recently seen a moratorium on building because of the drought and a lack of water for new homes. There has been a growth of membership within the tribe and an interest of members to live in the area.
“We want room for our members to come home,” he said. “I think we’re growing and we’re looking to prepare for the future. Before, other things took precedence. It’s a higher priority now, at least speaking for myself. Other council members may have other reasons.”
The proposal is in the study phase, which could take eight months or longer, Peyron said, but he is hopeful about the outcome.
“I see it as a pretty good outlook,” he said. “It’s falling into place.”
The building project alone could bring potentially hundreds of temporary jobs to the area, according to an independent market research firm. And, in the new facility, the job demand could nearly double the current employment of Eagle Mountain Casino.
The proposed casino would include a 250-room hotel, 29,000-square-feet of convention space, banquet hall and meeting spaces along with a sports bar, restaurant, buffet and food court. There would be a 1,700-seat entertainment center and an entertainment lounge as well.
Should the casino relocation be approved and built, it is the intent for the old facility to be repurposed for educational, health care and tribal governance. It could also provide food and restaurant options for tribal members.
A public scoping meeting will be held at 6pm on Monday, January 23 in the Porterville Veterans Memorial Building, 1900 West Olive. Anyone interested is invited to attend.