KULONGOSKI SHOULD BACK GORGE CASINO

November 15, 2002 12:00 am

Some things may not be changing for the people of the Columbia Gorge even with a new Oregon governor about to come on board.

Outgoing Gov. John Kitzhaber has been opposed to the Warm Springs Indian Tribe's effort to locate a casino in Cascade Locks, even though the people in the small community have been soundly behind the project.

THE TOWNSPEOPLE understand that there aren't a lot of economic development opportunities for their community that lies smack dab in the middle of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, so expanding the city's urban growth boundary is virtually out of the question.

They can see that the Warm Springs Tribe's casino development could bring hundreds of new jobs, perhaps paying better than the ones currently available.

Gov.-elect Ted Kulongoski told state Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, in a face-to-face conversation before the election that he supported the project to build the casino at Cascade Locks. Metsger's Senate district includes the small community.

NOW METSGER wants Kulongoski to move ahead to help get the project going, but senses the governor-elect is waffling. Scott Ballo, a spokesman for Kulongoski, claimed the new governor has not made any decision on the siting of the casino.

If something doesn't happen soon, the tribe could move forward in its efforts to build on trust land near Hood River. That would scar the appearance of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The tribe has always been willing to build in Cascade Locks, where the visual impact may not be as great, but Kitzhaber was opposed.

THE CONFEDERATED TRIBE of Grand Ronde, owner of Spirit Mountain Casino west of McMinnville, has been lobbying the state not to allow the development in Cascade Locks. Why? Because Spirit Mountain knows that a new casino located 40 miles from downtown Portland could end up costing it millions of dollars in revenue each year as people gravitate east to engage in their fantasy of striking it rich. The Warm Springs Indians are serious about building a casino in the gorge and will build it either in Cascade Locks or near Hood River. Cascade Locks is the best location.

This might be the first serious issue relating to rural economic development facing Kulongoski. The governor-elect should hold to his conversation with Metsger and move to get the ball rolling to assist the Warm Springs Tribe in locating its casino at Cascade Locks. He does not need the ill-will that could come by not delivering something that could pump some economic vitality into the Columbia Gorge community.