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County?s deal on River Rock Casino calls for minimum 8-year suspension of Pomo tribe?s application for gaming on 277-acre property south of town


The Indian tribe that owns River Rock Casino in Geyserville and a 277-acre property south of Petaluma says it will drop its application for gaming rights on the local site in exchange for water and sewer service there.

Without water and sewer hook-ups to the property, the tribe will only delay its application for eight years, under the terms of a wide-ranging agreement reached with the county this week.

If such services are provided, ?the tribe would not seek to take (the property) into trust for gaming at all,? said David Hyams, a spokesman for the Dry Creek Rancheria.

The tribe has repeatedly said it is not pursuing any development of the property opposite Kastania Road south of Petaluma. In 2006, it filed an application with the federal government for the land to be taken into trust, a step that could lead to a casino, though the tribe claims it doesn?t intend to build a gaming hall.

This week?s agreement, passed by county supervisors Tuesday, primarily concerns alcohol regulations, traffic impacts and payments from the tribe?s existing casino.

On the Petaluma property ?now used for agriculture ? the tribe would suspend its trust application for eight years and dedicate 90 of the 277 acres as protected open space along the southern and eastern portions of the site.

The open space would serve as an agriculture and wetlands ?mitigation bank? for property the tribe is developing near River Rock Casino.

About 25 of the remaining 187 acres are zoned for commercial uses, such as offices, restaurants, gas stations or similar projects.

Supervisor Mike Kerns, who represents the south county, said the tribe stated during negotiations that it has no current proposal for the commercial portion of the site, but sought water and sewer service for some future development there.

?They have indicated that they plan to do something else with that site,? Kerns said.

Supervisor Paul Kelley, whose north county district includes River Rock Casino, participated in the negotiations with the tribe and said he, too, told the tribe he was opposed to the expansion of gambling in Sonoma County.

?I was very interested in getting a commitment out of them for some manner of time, ideally for as long as possible,? Kelley said. ?In the discussions, they said, ?If we had sewer and water, maybe we could do some other kind of project.?

As for the eight-year delay in seeking gaming rights, ?I would have preferred that they agree to never build a casino there,? Kerns said. ?Paul felt that was the best we could get out of them.?

Water and sewer connections would have to come from the city of Petaluma, which didn?t participate in the negotiations and has not accounted for any development of the tribe?s property in its new General Plan.

The site is outside of city limits and the urban growth boundary, two potential obstacles for tying in to city services.

In a meeting with city officials a year ago, the tribe inquired about the possibility of gaining those connections, with Mayor Pamela Torliatt responding that such moves are ?heavily frowned upon? outside of the UGB.

The results of a 2006 advisory measure passed by Petaluma voters showed 80 percent wanted the city to do everything in its power to oppose a casino on the site.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said the opinions of the local community would be taken into account before he approves gaming compacts with tribes and specifically mentioned advisory measures as a way to gauge that opinion.

Local officials remain opposed to the idea of another casino in Sonoma County.

?I would certainly fight it vehemently,? Kerns said. ?I think they?ll have a real tough time getting that land into trust.?

(Contact Corey Young at corey.young@arguscourier.com)