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Buena Vista Rancheria submits final environmental report

DAVIS, Calif. -- The Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians has submitted
its final environmental impact report to Amador County officials for a
proposed 245,405-square-foot casino complex, but many of the same sticking
points that drew criticism in the county from its draft report still remain
in the final version.

Buena Vista Rancheria spokesman Ryan Rauzon remains resolute that the
tribe's proposal for the Flying Cloud Gaming and Entertainment Facility --
which currently includes 2,000 slot machines, a parking garage for 3,600
cars and a wastewater treatment plant, among other projects -- will be
successfully completed and will result in the intergovernmental agreement
with county officials required by its state gaming compact.

Buena Vista Rancheria tribal leaders and the Amador County administrator
and counsel have 55 days to negotiate the agreement, in which payments for
off-reservation improvements and services such as the widening of county
and city roads, additions to fire and police departments, and environmental
protections to plants and animals can be determined.

A draft of the same report that was released for public comment Jan. 30
raised strong criticism from county and city officials, local environmental
groups and some local tribes, who almost unanimously called for the tribe
to draft another report and provide a detailed analysis of the casino's
impact on just about every item.

Still, the tribe contends that it is on the track to clear the bureaucratic
hurdles necessary for approval.

"These plans leave a smaller footprint on the reservation," Rauzon said.
"[Chairman] Rhonda Pope has gone to the Amador County leaders with a
friendlier proposal."

Amador County Administrator Pat Blacklock, the lead negotiator for the
county with the tribe, authored a cutting 65-page response to the draft
study.

"The [Draft Tribal Environmental Impact Report], on issue after issue,
fails to provide information in sufficient detail for a meaningful
evaluation of off-reservation impacts, much less for the development and
proposal of adequate mitigation," he wrote on June 24.

Blacklock, who along with the county's lead attorney will negotiate for
Amador County, offered similar criticism about the tribe's final report.

"The short answer is yes, those types of items raise concerns and no, they
haven't been properly addressed in the [Tribal Environmental Impact
Report]," Blacklock said.

The tribe's response to public criticism has been quiet.

"The tribe's position is, let's negotiate this with county leaders and not
in the press," Rauzon said. "We are complying with the process that Gov.
[Arnold] Schwarzenegger has required [of] this tribe as building on federal
Indian land."

While Amador County has entered into negotiations with the rancheria to
open a casino, it is also suing the Department of Justice in order to shut
it down.

According to its lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia on April 1, the
Buena Vista Rancheria is "not owned by the United States, rather, it is fee
land owned by the Tribe." The county argued that business operations on the
rancheria are under its own jurisdiction. Furthermore, the county charged
that the Interior Department violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act when
it approved the amended compact between the tribe and Schwarzenegger before
Jan. 1 of this year.

This "constitutes an unlawful authorization," according to the lawsuit,
"[...] because the proposed gaming lands at the Buena Vista Rancheria are
under the County's jurisdiction and are not 'Indian Lands' as required by
IGRA and the Amended Compact."

But a June 30 National Indian Gaming Commission ruling has seemingly
weakened the county's case. According to Penny J. Coleman, NIGC acting
general counsel, the Buena Vista Rancheria's tribal government, legal and
reservation status are secured.

"Because the Rancheria is a reservation under the IGRA definition of Indian
lands," he wrote, "we conclude that the Tribe may conduct gaming on it."

"The county is challenging whether the tribe can build a casino," according
to Blacklock. "We have a duty to negotiate in good faith. We're not letting
the lawsuit color the productiveness of the negotiations."

While NIGA has approved gaming at the Buena Vista Rancheria, local Indian
people have not been as supportive of the project.

In response to the draft report, Glenn Villa Jr., a Miwok Indian from
nearby Ione, Calif., charged in a letter on June 21 that the casino project
has already "moved a considerable amount of dirt, disturbing and adversely
impacting areas of the property eligible for the National Registry of
Historical Places" and that it could desecrate "one of the most sacred
areas in Northern Miwok Territory."

According to Villa, Pope's casino proposal is an about-face of her previous
public statements opposing gaming on the Buena Vista Rancheria prior to her
rise as tribal leader in January 2002.

"You need to quit disturbing our sacred lands and move the proposed Casino
to a different parcel of land," Villa wrote.

In another letter to tribal, county and BIA leaders, Ione Band of Miwok
Indians Chairman Matthew Franklin said his tribe was "alarmed" that the
draft report did not include a detailed plan to use federal and state laws
to protect the tribal cemetery, historic roundhouses or other sacred sites
on the rancheria.

"While we do not oppose the Buena Vista Rancheria's efforts to game under
the IGRA, we seek to protect the important cultural sites within the
project," he wrote.

Rauzon explained that proposed size of the casino; the tribe's willingness
to set up community advisory' committee on gaming's impact; and plans to be
"good neighbors" and pay for county services, such as a fire station one
mile from the reservation boundary, represent a commitment by the tribe to
minimize the impacts of the casino on the county as well as its own
cultural sites.

"The tribe's willingness to scale back shows Rhonda Pope's willingness to
preserve cultural sites on the rancheria," he said.