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Casino project may start this year

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 | Posted by



Work could start this summer on a $433 million Indian casino and resort project planned for the outskirts of Rohnert Park.

That delights labor leaders, who say the tribe has committed to using union workers. And it increases pressure on casino opponents, who are mounting last-ditch efforts to stall it.

The work timeline is laid out in financial documents of Station Casinos, a Las Vegas casino company bankrolling the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria project. The tribe plans to build a 200-room hotel and casino with up to 3,000 slot machines at the Wilfred Avenue site.

“We currently estimate that construction … will begin after financing for the project has been obtained, which we anticipate to be during the summer of 2012,” the company said in a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“That’s amazing. The sooner the better,” said Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council.

“The unemployment in construction right now is huge and being able to put people back to work is going to be a boon to Rohnert Park and the whole region,” she said.

But casino opponents, who have long argued the impact will be wholly negative, say they will push for legislative hearings and are planning legal action.

“What happens now is we try to mobilize the state Legislature and convince them why this is a bad idea for California and for Rohnert Park,” said Marilee Montgomery, an organizer with Stop the Casino 101, a coalition of opponents of the project.

“We have every chance of being able to delay construction with a lawsuit” challenging the environmental impact study done for the project, she added.

Graton Rancheria tribal chairman Greg Sarris did not respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment Monday.

The Station Casinos’ report was filed Friday, on the day Gov. Jerry Brown said he had signed a gaming compact with the Graton Rancheria, the chief barrier to the tribe before it could move forward on the controversial project underway for a decade.

The tribe estimates the project will create 750 construction jobs. Once completed, the casino resort is expected to employ 2,250 workers, making it the largest private employer in Sonoma County.

In its filing, Station Casinos said the casino could be open 18 to 24 months after construction starts.

The tribe wants the project built by union workers, North Bay labor officials said.

“I believe that the tribal council will support union membership both during the construction phase and afterward,” said Jack Buckhorn, secretary and treasurer of the Building Trades Council of Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino.

In 2003, the tribe agreed to use union labor, but the agreement needs to be revised, he said. Negotiations will begin once the tribe hires a construction management firm.

“Once that’s done, we’ll go forward,” said Buckhorn, also a director of the Friends of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a group of non-tribal supporters of the tribe.

The compact needs to be ratified by state lawmakers and then the federal Department of the Interior.

That could slow the process, especially because the compact, which paves the way for the first full-service urban casino in the Bay Area, has been a lightning rod for critics.

“Some have come out (of the Legislature) in a matter of weeks, some have taken months. It just depends on how complicated and controversial the compact is,” said Assemblyman Michael Allen. Before his 2010 election to the Assembly, Allen was was the Labor Council’s president and supported the project.

The governor needs to select a lawmaker to carry the compact as a bill, and it must clear Assembly and Senate committees before going to a full vote by both houses.

“It’ll probably be end of the summer. That would be my best guess,” said John Vigna, spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.

The Department of Interior then would have 45 days to review the compact.

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Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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