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.”