Sonoma, Napa counties appeal judge's decision on Wappo tribe's federal lawsuit

Sonoma and Napa county officials continue to fight an Alexander Valley tribe's efforts to gain federal recognition, fearing it will open the door to another North Bay casino.

The counties last week formally appealed a judge's decision that removed them from the Mishewal Wappo lawsuit that seeks tribal recognition.

"They're looking for a site here, or in Napa Valley, to put into trust and build another casino," said Jeff Brax, an attorney for Sonoma County, who argues the counties have a legitimate role in the litigation.

But Wappo Tribal Chairman Scott Gabaldon continues to downplay any plans for a gambling hall if the tribe gets restored.

"I understand why they want to fight restoration. They don't want a casino, or potential casino," he said. "We've never mentioned the casino. We've always said it's just an option."

He said that through formal recognition the Wappos will be eligible to obtain elder housing and youth education benefits.

He maintained the tribe is only seeking surplus federal property, which is not in the counties' jurisdictions.

"I don't understand how they think they have a dog in this fight. They don't have one," Gabaldon said.

In their lawsuit filed in 2009 against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the Wappos say the federal government acted unlawfully when it disbanded the tribe in 1959 along with numerous other California tribes.

The former Alexander Valley Rancheria, their 54-acre reservation on a bend of the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg, is now in private hands.

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