The Tule River Tribe owns and operates the Eagle Mountain Casino in Porterville, California. Photo: Tamara Evans

Tule River Tribe takes major step forward with casino relocation plan

The Tule River Tribe is taking a big step forward with plans to relocate its casino to an off-reservation site in northern California.

A long-awaited environmental impact statement for the move of the Eagle Mountain Casino is finally being made public. Notice of the document's availability is being published in the Federal Register on Friday.

"The proposed casino-hotel resort would include a hotel, convention center, multipurpose event space, several restaurant facilities, parking facilities and water reclamation infrastructure, the notice, which was signed by Tara Sweeney, the recently-installed Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, reads. "The new facility would replace the tribe’s existing casino, and the existing casino buildings would be converted to tribal government or service uses"

Plans call for Eagle Mountain, currently located on the reservation, to be moved to a 40-acre site near the Porterville Airport Industrial Park, less than 20 miles away. The tribe owns the land but it must be placed in trust gaming can occur there.

An aerial view of a potential site plan for the new Eagle Mountain Casino in Porterville, California. Source: Scoping Report - Tule River Tribe Fee-to-Trust and Eagle Mountain Casino Relocation Project

To make that happen, the tribe is following the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The process requires approval first by the federal government and then by the state governor.

But even if the governor concurs, the tribe still has more work to do. An amendment to its Class III gaming compact calls for further negotiations to address the impacts of the project.

Despite the hurdles, the tribe has remained optimistic. In a statement sent to The Porterville Recorder late last month, Chairman Neil Peyron said the Bureau of Indian Affairs is taking steps to "streamline" the environmental review process.

"We support the efforts of the federal government to improve the environmental review process and reduce processing times," Peyron said in the August 31 statement. We believe that the new streamlined process will eventually expedite the review in the long run."

The tribe officially initiated the federal review process in 2016, according to Peyron's statement. A notice of the intent to prepare an environmental impact statement went out in December of that year and was followed by public meetings in early 2017 to discuss the project.

Now that the draft document is being released, the BIA will be taking public comments. Once those are taken into account, a final environmental impact statement can be issued.

The BIA, though, is under no obligation to release the final document, or make a final record of decision, under any particular schedule.

The tribe has the support of the city councils in Porterville and Lindsay for the relocation. Other Indian nations in the area are also backing the move.

Forthcoming Federal Register Notice
Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Tule River Tribe’s Proposed Fee-to-Trust and Eagle Mountain Casino Relocation Project, Tulare County, California (To Be Published September 21, 2018)

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Tule River Tribe's Proposed Fee-to-Trust and Eagle Mountain Casino Relocation Project, Tulare County, California (December 30, 2016)

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