- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. (AP) — Along the main drag of this Columbia River town, the signs of despair read “closed” and “for sale.”

Many key businesses packed up long ago, others are leaving and the school is struggling to stay open. Most of the 1,100 residents drive elsewhere for jobs.

About 100 miles to the south, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are having their own troubles. Unemployment on the reservation is about 26 percent. The tribal lumber mill is closing.

The tribes and many Cascade Locks residents also have this in common: They see building an Indian casino on the banks of the Columbia River as their salvation.

It is an ironic twist of history. Cascade Locks sits on part of 10 million acres ceded by the Wasco and Warm Springs Indians to the U.S. government in 1855. In exchange for the land, the tribes got government services, fishing rights and a 640,000-acre reservation.

Now many in the town and on the reservation hope the tribes will be permitted to build an off-reservation casino on a sliver of the land they gave up.

But the proposal has pitted tribe against tribe and neighbor against neighbor, and it has angered environmentalists who say a casino would be a blight on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, an 85-mile strip of river where the town is located.

Leading the opposition are the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which have a flourishing casino about 65 miles southwest of Portland. They worry that a Warm Springs casino in Cascade Locks, just 45 miles from Portland, may siphon off the city’s gamblers.

Federal hearings have just begun on the proposal, but the debate started three years ago when Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski and the Warm Springs tribes signed an agreement that would allow Oregon’s first off-reservation tribal casino.

Only three off-reservation casino applications have made it through the legal labyrinth since the federal 1988 Indian Gaming Regulation Act.

The off-reservation application for Cascade Locks is one of six the Interior Department recently allowed to proceed. Most of those rejected were judged to be too far from reservations to provide jobs for tribal members.

Some in Cascade Locks fear the casino, a 250-room hotel and several restaurants would run off the small number of businesses still here.

Mayor Roger Freeborn doesn’t see it that way: “This community is limping along where we are now. There might be negative impact, but we think the positive will far outweigh it. We’re comfortable to deal with that.”

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