The casino watchdog group, Stand Up for California!, on Oct. 21 appealed a federal judge’s ruling on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s authority and decision to place Wilton Rancheria’s tribal land in Elk Grove into federal trust.
Judge Trevor McFadden two weeks ago ruled that the land acquisition was properly handled. The interior department took the land into federal trust on Feb. 10, 2017.
The tribe plans to build a $500 million casino-resort on that 36-acre property, near Kammerer Road and the Grant Line Road exit of Highway 99.
With Stand Up’s notice of appeal filing, the group was given 60 days to provide written arguments of their appeal, with the intent of having the judge’s ruling reversed.
In appealing that ruling, the Penryn-based Stand Up claims that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved the Elk Grove site in an “extraordinarily expedited two-month review at the end of the Obama administration after spending several years reviewing a separate site in Galt.”
Stand Up also argues that this “last-minute switch” to the Elk Grove site misled the public, and thus resulted in “an inadequate analysis of the project’s impacts.”
It is also claimed by the Stand Up group that BIA official Larry Roberts was unauthorized to issue the land-into-trust decision for the Wilton Rancheria’s proposed casino-resort.
Stand Up’s director Cheryl Schmit said that her group’s appeal “makes clear that this case is not closed.”
“The district court overlooked serious flaws in the BIA’s public process and hasty environmental analysis, as well as a lack of proper legal authority exercised by an acting official in the waning days of the last administration,” she said.
Schmit told the Citizen that Stand Up’s arguments were “mis-categorized,” but she chose not to provide specifics. She noted that those specifics will be included in the written argument.
Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock responded to Stand Up’s appeal.
“This appeal is laughable,” he said. “Cheryl Schmit just has a blank checkbook from other gaming interests to be spent on more frivolous lawsuits,” he said. “It’s not for the interest of the environment; it’s not for the community. It’s for personal self-gain and for the others that are going to benefit from delaying the opening of our project.”
As for Stand Up’s claim that the approval of the Elk Grove site underwent an expedited review, Hitchcock disagreed.
“That’s just simply not true,” he said. “Elk Grove, Galt and Wilton were different alternatives (that) were all being reviewed at the very beginning of the scoping period back in 2013. They all have mounds of environmental documents.
“Did the preferred site change at the end, once it was revealed that the most preferred site and less environmentally impactful was the Elk Grove site? Yes. But was it reviewed and studied to the fullest extent (of) BIA (requirements)? Absolutely.”
Hitchcock added that he does not believe that the appeal will overturn the federal judge’s ruling.
“I don’t see that happening,” he said. “The judge’s determination in this case is very strong and spot on.
“They have that blank checkbook, so they’re going to spend more money to do what they can to try to convolute the reality.”
Schmit was asked to disclose the source or sources of Stand Up’s funding for their lawsuits against the Wilton Rancheria’s planned casino-resort.
“That is a confidential matter,” she responded.
Hitchcock noted that the recent appeal has no bearing on whether the Wilton Rancheria will break ground for its casino-resort.
“The tribe fully expects to put a shovel in the ground in the very near future, regardless of this frivolous appeal,” he said.