Mechoopda win Butte County’s federal court appeal on proposed casino

By: Nikia | May 21 2018

By Staff Reports

POSTED: 04/13/18, 5:54 PM PDT | UPDATED: ON 04/13/2018

Washington >> Butte County has lost an appeal in federal court in its attempt to prevent a new casino from being built near the intersection of highways 149 and 99 by the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of the Chico Rancheria.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the tribe should be able to proceed.

The county was appealing an earlier ruling by a federal judge who also sided with the Mechoopda.

The county has fought the concept for more than a decade and has spent more than $600,000 in legal fees doing so, though the two Chico-area supervisors, Larry Wahl and Maureen Kirk, voted two years ago against continuing the court battle.

The court’s 15-page decision, agreed to unanimously by three judges, dismissed each of Butte County’s appeal arguments.

“The U.S. Department of Interior provided Butte County with ample opportunities to submit and rebut material as well as time to develop the reasoning behind its arguments. Ultimately, Butte County failed to do so,” Mechoopda Chairman Dennis Ramirez said in a press release. “We thank the District Court and the Department of Justice for recognizing the weaknesses in Butte County’s arguments and for acknowledging our historical connection to the land.”

Ramirez added: “The Mechoopda Indian Tribe looks forwarding to advancing our proposed casino project. In doing so, we plan to drive economic development in Butte County for years to come.”

If a casino is built, it would be the third in Butte County.

The county had argued that the federal government should not allow the proposed site to be taken into trust by the tribe. The Mechoopda argued the location amounted to a restoration of historic lands. The secretary of the Interior Department sided with the tribe and ruled twice, the last time in 2014, that the property constitutes “restored lands.”

The Mechoopda first asked the government in 2002 to consider the 645-acre parcel as restored lands.

In an earlier article, County Counsel Bruce Alpert said the county had concern’s about the project’s location, which is not near any emergency services; a lack of water supply and sewer system; water quality and recharge issues; and traffic safety issues.