Casino, golf course, convention center proposed

October 09, 2001 11:00 pm

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

A new resort hotel combined with a large conference center, a casino and a championship golf course have been proposed by the Elk Valley Rancheria for a 203-acre area just south of Crescent City on Highway 101.

This will mean 150 to 220 jobs with an average pay of $22,000 to $25,000 per year, per employee, said Tim Goodman, Chief Executive Officer for the Rancheria.

The money is there and the plans are drawn. Theres just one catch.

At least part of the 203-acre project must be placed in-trust for the tribe by the United States Department of the Interior. Otherwise, a casino would not be legal there.

That means converting the land, currently owned by the tribe, from property subject to jurisdiction and taxation of the county and state to tribal land, exempt from the usual rules.

To help convince the federal government to place the land in-trust, the Elk Valley Rancheria is asking the Board of Supervisors to write a letter of support.

While the idea for the development generally was embraced, several people raised questions.

How we can tell one hotel owner they have to pay taxes but that the other team in town doesnt, said supervisor Martha McClure after Goodmans presentation of the project to the board.

Being an entrepreneur, its really hard to see someone else get a leg up on the playing field. And I do believe Native Americans have been mistreated, but it appears the leg up or advantage is a casino with thousands if not millions in profit, McClure added.

She said she is in favor of putting 30,000 square feet needed for the casino in trust, but not the remaining 173 acres needed for the golf course, hotel and conference facility.

In response to the boards concerns, Goodman said the Rancheria is proposing to pay the property tax, sales tax and hotel taxes anyone else would have to pay even if the land becomes exempt under the ownership of the tribe.

Obviously theres an advantage to us to getting out to Highway 101. And we want to move the casino out of the residential area and if there are taxes to be paid, so we dont have an unfair advantage, were willing to discuss that, Goodman said.

Supervisors Chuck Blackburn and Jack Reese serve on a joint committee with the tribe. Blackburn said this project along with a large community sports complex for adult softball and childrens soccer and baseball have been in the works for two years.

Both men said they are excited by the projects and feel it is a first real move toward the countys economic development.

I look at Del Norte County as having its economy broken. The tribe has stepped up and said we would like to help, Reese said.

County Assessor Gerald Cochran was not as positive about communications with Goodman leading up to this point.

Cochran vehemently opposed negotiating the taxes Elk Valley Rancheria would pay on the land if entered into trust. The assessment of the land before any development shows about a $16,000 property tax payment which would rise significantly with the kind of development being proposed.

You guys cant negotiate away constitutional issues, Cochran said to the board, asserting that the supervisors have no authority over taxation.

Reese said Im certainly not going to give this county away but I think together we can make this thing work.

Ultimately, the board put off the decision until after more discussion with the Rancheria.