Land parcel taken into trust for Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria

A 254-acre parcel of land at the edge of Rohnert Park has been taken into trust for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which plans to build a Las Vegas-style casino and resort there.

Friday's action by the federal Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs effectively makes the land a tribal reservation, removing it from county jurisdiction and moving the controversial project significantly closer to reality.

However, several legal steps still must take place at the state level. The tribe, for instance, must now negotiate a gaming compact with the governor's office, and questions remain about the project's feasibility during a slumping economy.

Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

But supporters of the Graton tribe welcomed Friday's action, saying the project will boost the local economy as well as rejuvenate the tribe, which claims 1000 Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians.

"We're very happy that the land has finally been taken into trust. It's long overdue," said Jack Buckhorn, a director of the Friends of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

The Interior Department decided in 2008 to take the land into trust, but delayed that action after casino opponents challenged it in court. The lawsuit was rejected by a federal appeals court in June.

Foes of the casino project, which could include 2,000 slot machines, a 300-room hotel and a convention center on a site near Wilfred Avenue, were discouraged Monday but vowed to keep trying to halt it.

"I'm highly disappointed that that has happened, and I don't know exactly what's going to happen next," said Chip Worthington, a leader of Stop the Casino 101, a coalition of groups opposing the project.

"The battle will continue," he said. "We're going to keep fighting and never quit fighting."

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