Anti-casino group sues federal government

A Rohnert Park group has filed suit against the federal government, challenging its ability to take into trust land for a proposed Indian casino.

The suit was filed by Stop the Casino 101 and contends the Department of Interior violated the U.S. Constitution when it took into trust 254 acres of land for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

“The federal government is powerless to create a new state or sovereign nation within an existing state without the consent of the state,” said Stephan Volker, the Oakland attorney who filed the suit.

Since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not negotiated a compact with the tribe, Volker said the state has not given the federal government that permission.

“For all we know, Gov. Schwarzenegger will say no,” Volker said. “As the impacts become known, maybe the state will become more reluctant to approve the compacts.”

The suit was filed June 6 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, within a 30-day comment period that followed the federal action.

“It was expected,” said Greg Sarris, tribe chairman. “That is why there is a 30-day period. That is their right and we will deal with it accordingly.”

The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs in early May announced it was putting the land into trust.

It is one of the measures necessary before the tribe can construct a Nevada-style casino and hotel.

“The effect is to cool, to slow down the speed with which the casino approvals are scheduled for completion,” Volker said. “It gives the public more time to mobilize and educate the decision-makers about the adverse effects of this project.”

The tribe, which claims a membership of 1,000 Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians, has been trying to build a casino and hotel complex on the site for five years.

Tribal officials have said the complex, which could include a 300-room hotel, spa, casino, 1,000-seat convention center and Broadway-style theater, could cost USD 1 billion.

It is pursuing the controversial project in conjunction with Station Casinos of Nevada, with which it would have a management contract.

The Stop the Casino 101 group believes the casino would have a severe impact on Highway 101 traffic and drain Sonoma County’s water supply.

“This thing would be a monster project that is inconsistent with the general plan,” said group spokeswoman Marilee Montgomery. “We believe it will create irreparable social and ecological damage to Sonoma and Marin counties.”

The casino could generate 50,000 trips on Highway 101 a day, the complex could use 4.5 percent of all groundwater in southern Sonoma County and the tribe could invoke federal water rights giving it first-call on all water, Montgomery said.

The suit doesn’t name the Graton tribe, but names the U.S. Department of the Interior, two of its top officials, and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and two of its top officials.