Casino potential draws scrutiny

Local officials are not ready to gamble on a 277-acre parcel of land just south of town owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians and pursuing ways to prevent the tribe from building a gaming casino.

In 2005, the Dry Creek Tribe applied to move its Kastania Road property along Highway 101 into federal trust in an attempt to build a class-three gaming facility on the land. Placing land into federal trust gives tribal governments sovereignty over the land and is often considered a precursor to building a gaming casino.

But after 79 percent of Petaluma voters rejected the idea of gaming at that location in 2006 and the application process stalled, the tribe signed an agreement with the county not to pursue gaming on the property until 2016.

Now that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria's massive Rohnert Park casino project is close to opening and promises to siphon profits away from Dry Creek's River Rock Casino in Geyserville, county representatives have been actively speaking with Gov. Jerry Brown's office about their desire to keep the Kastania Road site, and several other county parcels owned by Indian tribes, casino-free.

David Rabbitt, Petaluma's representative on the board of supervisors, said that he was in Sacramento meeting with the Govenor's office two weeks ago and expressed the county's desire to prevent another casino in Sonoma County.

"We've expressed our opinion across the board that we don't want to see another gaming facility in our county and the governor knows where we stand," said Rabbitt.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs — which handles federal trust applications — the Dry Creek tribe does not have any current applications on file to place the land into federal trust. But Rabbitt said that Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins has told him the tribe's application is close to being completed and submitted to the BIA. Hopkins did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Once finalized, federal trust applications can take anywhere from 18 months to a decade to be approved, depending on the specifics of the application — such as if it includes gaming and if it's a second property for the tribe. While the Argus-Courier previously reported the land could be taken into trust as early as Spring of 2013, it now appears that timeline has changed. It remains unclear as to when the tribe will submit its application to the BIA.

City officials have also been actively seeking ways to entice the Dry Creek Tribe to build something other than a casino on the property. Several months ago, Councilmember Mike Healy proposed acquiring the water and sewer rights from North Marin Water District, and offering the tribe hookups to the rural property — which currently has none — if Dry Creek promised not to build a casino on site.

Mayor David Glass said he has had several conversations with Hopkins and that he trusts the chairman's intentions to develop the land without a casino. "They said they're going to submit a non-gaming application to put the land into trust and I'm hopeful that it can be something that benefits their tribe and that the community as a whole embraces," he said.

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