After entering into a Tribal-State Gaming Compact with the State of California in February, the Fort Independence Indian Community of Paiute Indians is now proposing a new phase of the current Tribal Plaza gas station/mini mart northwest of Independence just off U.S. 395.
This month, the Tribe issued a Notice of Preparation (NOP) to the County for the Draft Tribal Environmental Impact Report (TEIR) for the planned Fort Independence Hotel and Casino Project. The Project would consist of an approximately 80,000 square foot gaming floor, which would accommodate up to 800 gaming machines and table games; a 60-room, four-story hotel tower, and related facilities. This new building would be located within the western portion of the Tribe’s 360-acre Reservation, northwest of the existing gas station/mini mart.
A second phase of the Project would include expanded facilities, including restaurants, as well as a full build-out with a conference center, multi-purpose center and related, ancillary facilities, according to the Tribe’s NOP. The Project would locate parking during both phases to the southeast of the gaming structure, offering initial access to the site via Miller Lane. Additional access may be offered at full build out at the intersection of Fort Independence Road and U.S. 395.
A third and final phase of the Project would include an expansion of the Tribe’s campground and RV park, the development of rental cabins and possibly a golf course.
Tribal Chairman Israel Naylor said the Tribe has been seeking the Tribal-State Compact since 2004. “Ever since we opened the Tribal Plaza, we’ve been looking into Phase Two of that project,” he said. He noted the potential benefits of the Fort Independence Hotel and Casino Project to the Tribe and Independence communities, such as, “Providing more jobs, more income, and more families. Independence is in sore need of more families,” he said. Naylor offered no potential negative impacts from the project, although, he said, “Everyone has their different opinion.”
Inyo County Planning Director Josh Hart shared Naylor’s enthusiasm; however, he offered some potential negative impacts from the Project to community resources and services, and to the surrounding area. Because of the scale of the Project, the Casino/Hotel could affect housing, transportation, public services, utilities, air quality and noise, hydrology and water quality, biological and cultural aesthetics, and geology and soils, according to the Planning Department’s Agenda Request Form for the Tuesday, Sept. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting.
“The Project could be complementary and beneficial to the community,” Hart said, adding that it could offer “a rejuvenation of the retail establishments along Main Street, and more people staying in [town] hotels,” among other things. He noted that the Board’s reaction to the Project was “similar to my own; there’s a lot of excitement about the Project.” However, the NOP for the Draft TEIR offers the County an opportunity to address possible mitigation measures the Project should follow during construction and operation of the Casino/Hotel in order to minimize adverse impacts off-reservation. The Board expressed concern in particular about the impact to the Independence Landfill, which the Board letter to the Tribe noted has only 48 years left of service life.
“We strongly urge that a recycling program with a service provider be included to minimize waste being disposed of in the landfill,” the letter stated.
According to Hart, the Board also questioned whether the Project could include biking, hiking and walking opportunities between Independence and the Casino/Hotel.
Comments regarding the NOP for the Draft TEIR must be postmarked to the Fort Independence Indian Community of Paiute Indians no later than Sept. 16.
Authorization for the Project after a Tribal review of both Draft and Final EIR will be up to the Tribe; however, Hart said, while “technically speaking here is no agency with oversight [of the Project], in reality the Governor has to approve it.”