Nine years after the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria announced plans to open a casino in Sonoma County, inciting opposition and controversy, the tribe has cleared its last governmental hurdle.
In a quiet milestone, the federal government Friday let an agreement between the state and the tribe, known as a compact, take effect by acting neither to reject or approve it.
The compact allows the tribe to operate a Las Vegas-style casino with slot machines and banking card games. It already has the legal ability to run a Class II casino with bingo machines and some card games.
In anticipation of getting the go ahead, the tribe has been holding job fairs and is recruiting executives to run what is to be a 3,000-slot facility just outside Rohnert Park.
Over the next 90 days, Sonoma County officials and the tribe will negotiate how to minimize the impacts of what would be one of the largest developments in North Bay history.
Preliminary talks already have begun over environmental concerns such as the project's effect on groundwater and private wells. It would grow in size to 534,000 square-feet once a 200-room hotel is built at a later date.
"We must continue to be hyper-focused on mitigating any potential negative impacts and not allow any distractions in that mission," County Supervisor said Mike McGuire Friday.
Asked about recent tensions — Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris in June accused supervisors of spreading "misleading" information about the project — McGuire said that so far, "the conversations have been collaborative in tone."
Sarris did not respond to a request for comment.
Friday's non-action by the Department of Interior was largely anticlimactic. No announcements came from the government or tribe. Work had begun three weeks ago, with an increasing number of Ghilotti Construction trucks moving over the 64 acres south of Home Depot where the casino is to rise.