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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

California tribe wins land-into-trust court battle

California tribe wins land-into-trust court battle

In northern California, the federally-recognized Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria could finally be allowed to open a casino after a federal judge upheld a previous land-into-trust ruling over the objections of local officials.
According to a report from The Bellingham Herald newspaper, the tribe wants to construct a 42,000 sq ft casino on a portion of 625 acres of land located about ten miles south of the city of Chico. After purchasing the plot in 2001, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria submitted a land-into-trust application with the Department Of The Interior and had the request approved in 2008.
It was at this point that Butte County, which already hosts a pair of casinos in the Gold Country Casino And Hotel and the Feather Falls Casino And Lodge, objected in court citing environmental and water-supply concerns. This eventually resulted in an appellate court ordering the Department Of The Interior to conduct a review into its decision, which ultimately led to the federal agency via then-Assistant Secretary Of The Interior Kevin Washburn to conclude in 2014 that its original verdict had been justified.
Undeterred by the Department Of The Interior’s second pronouncement, Butte County took the matter to the United States District Court For The District Of Columbia in hopes of overturning the land-into-trust decision.
However, in his Friday ruling, Judge Frederick Scullin wrote that the Department Of The Interior’s 2014 decision had been “thorough and well-reasoned” and had “included explanations that were consistent with the evidence before the agency and considered all of the relevant issues” including a claim from the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria that they were among the first peoples to have lived in the areas around Chico.
“The secretary noted that he had derived the recitation of the tribe’s history from his review of all of the documents submitted by the tribe and the county as well as his own independent research,” read the 17-page decision from Scullin, who was appointed to the federal bench 24 years ago by then-President George HW Bush.
“We’re very pleased, obviously,” Sandra Knight, Vice-Chairperson for the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria, told the newspaper. “This battle has been going on for more than ten years.”
Despite the possibility that Butte County could appeal the land-into-trust decision a final time, the tribe stated that it now intends to proceed with plans to build a casino offering around 500 slots and ten gaming tables.
“Since we were re-recognized, we have the right to establish reservation or tribal land in Chico,” Knight told local television broadcaster KHSL-TV. “They went after the tribe at it’s core, saying that we were a manufactured tribe. This is just a main economic development project for the tribe that will create funding for future generations; childcare, healthcare, all of those things that we haven’t been able to provide for our members.”

2 Calif. tribes sue to block casino proposal

Two California casino-owning tribes have filed lawsuits to block a third tribe in the state from building its own casino.

Federal judge denies effort to block proposed Indian casino in Butte County

POSTED: 1:29 PM Jul 18 2016

CHICO, Calif. -
U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullen denied Butte County’s request to block the Mechoopda Indian Tribe’s proposed casino, paving the way for a casino to be built on a portion of 600 acres owned by the tribe at the northeast intersection of Highways 99 and 149.
Butte County asserted that the government's decision to take the land into trust was unfounded, and agreed with the Department of Interior's determination that the tribe did indeed have a historical connection to the land.
In a statement, the Mechoopda Tribe said it looks forward to advancing its proposed casino project.

County’s Tribal Casino Challenge Lacking, Judge Says

Law360, Washington (May 10, 2016, 1:09 PM ET) -- A D.C. federal judge on Tuesday appeared poised to deny a California county’s request to block a proposed casino for the Mechoopda Native American tribe, saying at a hearing the county failed to show how the federal government’s decision to take land into trust was unfounded.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullen said Butte County was essentially asking the court to “second guess” the Department of Interior’s determination that the Mechoopda had a historical connection to hundreds of acres in Chico, California, and “substitute” his judgment for...

Mechoopda Casino Project Upheld in Federal Court
April 16, 2009
The Mechoopda Casino Project was challenged by Butte County in Federal court, however U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. dismissed the county’s suit yesterday. AES prepared the NEPA Environmental Assessment for the Tribe’s casino project.
Judge: County can’t stop casino
By ROGER H. AYLWORTH – Staff Writer
Posted: 04/14/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
OROVILLE — After more than two years of legal briefs, arguments and counter-arguments, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has rejected a Butte County effort to block a Mechoopda casino on Highway 149, about a mile east of Highway 99.
Monday, representatives of the tribe and the county issued announcements that U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had dismissed the county’s suit.
Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert, in a press release, stated, “The proposed casino site on Highway 149 will have major public safety, traffic, environmental and groundwater impacts.
“For the past several years, the casino developer has simply refused to work with Butte County to find an alternative site. As a result, Butte County had no recourse other than this litigation.”
Throughout the entire process, the county maintained the lawsuit was about environmental concerns related to the tribe’s proposed casino site, and not an attack on the Mechoopda.
Even so, the suit, which was filed against the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, sought to persuade the court the agencies could not grant the Chico Rancheria Mechoopda the right to use the land because the Mechoopda did not qualify as a tribe.
Based on a study conducted in 2006 by Professor Stephen Dow Beckham, of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., the county lawsuit charged the Chico Rancheria unit of the Mechoopda Indians was not a tribe in any meaningful sense, but was an amalgamation of 11 groups that had little or nothing to do with the historic Mechoopda tribe.
The county claimed if the Chico Rancheria group was not a legitimate tribe, the federal agencies could not grant them the necessary authority to put a casino on the Highway 149 property.
“The court has considered the briefing, scoured the record, and pressed the parties on this issue during oral argument. Having done so, the court cannot find the county has done enough to justify setting aside the agencies’ actions here,” wrote Judge Kennedy in his decision.
Doug Elmets of Sacramento, the tribe’s spokesman, said the casino project is “alive and well.”
“This project has been in the process for many years despite the hurdles that have been thrown in its way, particularly by Butte County,” he said.
Elmets explained, from the tribe’s perspective, the next step will be to get the agreements with the state that will allow for gaming on the 645-acre site.
He also said it is far too early to discuss a target for groundbreaking.
The press release from the county said the possibility of an appeal is still being discussed.
As of the end of 2008, the litigation had cost the county nearly $322,800, according to records obtained by the tribe.
Elmets charged that was money “that was flushed down the drain on a frivolous lawsuit.”
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