Wilton tribe still betting on casino near Galt

Proposed gaming facility moving forward while public input is sought

By Jennifer Bonnett/News-Sentinel Staff Writer

Nature conservancy, environmental effects and traffic were some of the concerns addressed at a public scoping meeting held Thursday to discuss the Wilton Rancheria Casino project planned just outside Galt. About 50 people attended the public meeting in Galt, according to John Rydzik, chief of the Division of Environmental, Cultural Resource Management and Safety, Bureau of Indian Affairs Pacific Regional Office, based in Sacramento.

The tribe has submitted an application to the BIA requesting the placement of approximately 282 acres in trust by the United States, upon which the tribe would construct a gaming facility north of Twin Cities Road between Highway 99 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The property is now a cow pasture.

The scoping process and subsequent environmental review are created to identify and evaluate environmental concerns related to land and water resources, air quality, noise, cultural, historical and archaeological resources, traffic and transportation, public health and safety, hazardous materials and wastes, public services and utilities, socioeconomics, aesthetics and cumulative, indirect and growth-inducing effects, according to the official meeting notice.

“It was a very positive meeting,” said Rose Weckenmann, the tribe’s attorney. “There were three to four speakers, and the response was mostly positive — largely, I think, because they weren’t surprised at the project since it’d already been before the (Galt) City Council.”

Galt City Manager Jason Behrmann said the turnout to the meeting was lower than expected and very few people provided oral testimony, but that the public would have further opportunity to provide future input once the draft environmental document is released next year.

The scoping report may be available in late February or March, Rydzik said, followed by the draft environmental impact statement, public review and hearing on the draft, then a final EIS and comment period. Finally, a Record of Decision would complete the environmental review.

The development bid, which the tribe says could span seven years, would create the first tribal casino in Sacramento County. Two other tribes are bidding to build casinos in Amador County, including the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, a tribe that includes relatives of Wilton Rancheria members.

Tribe chairman Andrew Franklin is at the forefront of the Wilton Rancheria proposal and met with Galt staff prior to going public with plans through a press conference earlier this year. Last spring, the Galt City Council supported working with the tribe and its proposal.

Franklin recently left his mechanical engineer career to aid his mother Anita Franklin’s fight for tribal recognition. She has sought for years to restore the tribe she argued was wrongfully terminated by the government in 1959, when fewer than a dozen families lived on the 40-acre Wilton Rancheria near Elk Grove.

“We wanted our children to have educational funding, and our families to get health care,” Anita Franklin told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year, referring to assistance that is available with federal recognition.

In 2009, the city of Elk Grove and Sacramento County contested a federal lawsuit by the Wilton Rancheria that led to restoration of its tribal status. The city and county charged that the federal government improperly agreed to let the tribe take land into trust near the Wilton Rancheria for a casino.

The tribe later reached a settlement with Elk Grove and the county, promising it would negotiate to pay to offset environmental impacts, such as increased traffic and law enforcement costs, from a casino development.

Given Elk Grove’s concern about a casino near its borders, the tribe set its sights on an alternative site near Galt. It focused on agricultural property bordering Highway 99, on the opposite side of the freeway from Hicksville Cemetery, where many tribal ancestors are buried.

Andrew Franklin, a University of California, Berkeley graduate, was recruited last year to lead the tribe into this new territory.

Now he flies to Washington, D.C., for U.S. Department of Interior seminars in tribal economic development. He meets with representatives of Boyd Gaming, operator of 22 casinos in eight states, including the Orleans and Sam’s Town resorts in Las Vegas.

Boyd Gaming is backing the tribe’s bid to acquire 160 acres and seek federal approval to designate the property as tribal land for casino development. That process officially started Dec. 3 when the tribe made its formal request to put into trust land earmarked for not only a casino but room for housing, a school and health care center.

The Wilton Rancheria was established in 1927 and is the only federally recognized tribe in Sacramento County.

The Wilton Miwok Rancheria, together with the Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria, filed a lawsuit to restore the tribe’s federally recognized status.

The court ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ended a legal odyssey that began in 1958 when the U.S. Rancheria Act stripped numerous tribes of their federally recognized status, among them the Wilton Miwok Rancheria.

Policy created through the act was declared a failure in 1970, and most tribes has their federal recognition re-instated. However, the Wilton Miwok Rancheria was left out.

The suit was settled in 2009, allowing the group to elect its own government and begin to hold regular tribal council meetings. It renamed itself the Wilton Rancheria and alluded to possible plans of building a future casino.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.
Posted: Dec 21, 2013,
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