Packed house for RP casino hearing
Water wells the big issue for casino foes
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By Jud Snyder  June 14, 2012 02:46 am

The subject was impact on water wells and a monitoring system to print up a baseline report. Not exactly a headline-grabber.
But the subject concerned the proposed casino west of Rohnert Park, and it drew a capacity crowd to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in Santa Rosa Tuesday night.

Official title of the agenda was Graton Rancheria Casino and Hotel Project Mitigations. But Chairwoman of the board, Third District Supervisor  Shirlee Zane, quickly narrowed the focus.

“We’re hear to listen. There’re a lot of feelings and angst out there,” she said.

She reminded the audience of the main focus, the impact of water wells on private wells owned by farmers and residents within a roughly one and a half mile circle from the casino site.

Second District Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose territory includes the casino, said, “The board is aware of the frustration from the people, but there are ideas we can throw out there to the Graton tribe. It would be foolish not to negotiate. We look forward to the relationships with the tribe on mitigation processes, but not support their main business, gambling.” (The Board of Supervisors has already voted to oppose the casino).

County Attorney Bruce Goldstein noted the county has 90 days to negotiate “and work with the tribe on mitigating the impact of the casino’s wells on private wells. If an agreement is not reached, then the process of binding arbitration comes into play.”
Zane opened the public hearing and noted she had 40 speaker cards, enforced a three-minute time limit, and took note this meant two hours of public comment.

The first speaker was J. Dietrich Stroeh, former manager of the Marin Municipal Water District. He owns property within one and a half miles of the casino.

194 well owners near casino
“This subject can’t be cavalierly mitigated, it needs to be worked on,” said Stroeh. “There are 193 shallow well owners (200 feet or less) in this area. It needs a monitoring program immediately, a survey to see what the problems are.”

Former RP city councilwoman Dawna Gallagher told the board there are money problems ahead. “Station Casinos has already been in bankruptcy and they could be bankrupt again. We need to ask for more time,” Gallagher added. The board should write to Sen. Barbara Boxer and ask why this is being fast-tracked,”

Loretta Smith said, “No one has contacted me or my neighbors in this area about our wells until today. The casino will get all the water, and we’ll nothing but leftovers.”

Construction jobs mentioned

Betty Fredericks, wife of RP’s co-founder Maurice Fredericks, said, “Besides water, we have to mitigate traffic problems on 101. Also, I’ve seen businesses fail because of casino gambling. Then, there’s the impact of the casino on college students. It hasn’t been talked about much.”

Speaking for the building trades union, Jack Buckhorn noted, “We’ve lost 20,000 jobs in Sonoma County and 43 percent of them are in our union. I think the tribe has gone above and beyond to work out mitigations. They’re will be union jobs.”
Peter Walker said. “The casino will destroy this county. People will come here from out of town. It’s a disaster.”

Susan Moore, who’s on the advisory board of the Graton Tribe, said, “It’s most interesting. This is the first time in California a tribe is willing to negotiate with the community.”

Tony Piazza, of Rohnert Park, said, “Casinos are safe. I know security’s not a problem for them.”

Dave Viviani, who lives on Langner Avenue near the proposed casino, told the supervisors, “I’m very concerned about the impacts on water supply. I think the casino should establish  h a utility district and work with Rohnert Park and the Sonoma County Water Agency for its water supply.”

Las Vegas could happen here
Chip Worthington, director of Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, said, “If you have any guts, you should ask for forty-million dollars up front. Get Wilfred Avenue improved before construction starts … let’s get tough.”

The Graton Tribe’s attorney, John Maier, said, “They’ve been steadfast in their commitment” to work with the community.
Lynne Conde, RN, who spearheaded the drive for a new RP public library, said, “I’m concerned about people’s health. What’s happened in Las Vegas has come here. I don’t want the casino for health reasons.”

The more than 40 public speakers took up the time Zane predicted and she gaveled it to a close at 8:30 p.m.

Dave Rabbitt: monitoring has to happen
“The message is loud and clear People are very concerned about impacts, especially on the impact on water wells,” she said.
“Monitoring has to happen,” said Rabbitt. “Ultimately the best outcome would be to have the casino tie in with Rohnert Park or the county water agency, but that’s a long term remedy.”

First District Supervisor Valerie Brown said, “I give the Graton Tribe credit. It’s the first in the state to talk government to government, the sovereign nation with the local county government.  It’s a remarkable situation.”

Both Zane and Rabbit will be present at a public meeting to be held Thursday, June 21, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the 4-H meeting room in Rohnert Park. The location is behind Grocery Outlet and near the Goodwill store.

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