Medford concerned about conflict of interest in study on proposed casino

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MEDFORD, Oregon — Medford city leaders opposed to a proposed casino are concerned about the contractor hired by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct the environmental analysis.

In a letter sent to the bureau this week, Mayor Gary Wheeler said the Coquille Indian Tribe is a client of Analytical Environmental Services. The city worries that AES would not objectively analyze the Coquille's application with Indian Affairs.

"Indeed, AES has been alleged to have a 'revolving door' with BIA, where employees of BIA and AES have switched jobs and has a history of conflict-of-interest complaints," Wheeler wrote.

The 15-page letter obtained by the Mail Tribune newspaper (http://is.gd/OBTMEj ) also lists negative effects the city fears the casino would trigger.

Oregon has nine casinos, each owned by a different tribe. The Coquille tribe has a casino along the central Oregon coast at North Bend and now plans to turn a Medford bowling alley into a casino with video gambling.

The tribe has asked the agency to place the 2.42-acre property, excluding an adjacent golf course, in a government trust. The Coquilles also have asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a gaming ban on lands acquired after October 1988.

Ray Doering, spokesman for the Coquille tribe, said he expects Indian Affairs to examine the issues raised by the city; it's all as part of the process.

"That's the whole point of this," he said. "That's the idea of the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), which is to raise these concerns and address them."

The letter from Wheeler was co-signed by City Attorney Lori Cooper and Jena A. MacLean, an attorney with the Washington firm of Perkins Coie LLP. It asks the BIA to consider a broad range of potential impacts, from traffic and crime to schools and social services.

The city cited numerous issues it wanted raised in the federal analysis, including looking at studies that casino gambling may be related to domestic violence, divorce, bankruptcy, drug and alcohol abuse, risky or illicit sexual behavior and problem gambling.

"The increase in the number of pathological gamblers is another concerning issue regarding the development of casino gambling, and there are increasing concerns regarding child neglect and family problems associated with casinos," the letter states.

Doering said tribe would respond once the impacts are shown.

"Every business has an impact of some kind," he said. "There are always pluses and minuses."


Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/

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