The Tulare River tribe has plans to move its Eagle Mountain Casino closer to the city of Porterville. Image via Eagle Mountain Casino Facebook
Written by David Castellon
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors and the Tule River tribe have entered an agreement to pay for roadway improvements and to mitigate the county’s public safety costs should Eagle Mountain Casino relocate from tribal land to within the Porterville city limits.
The supervisors approved the memorandum of understanding and intergovernmental, agreement last week, after tribal leaders had previously approved it.
Among the items agreed upon:
– Rehabilitation of West Street by the county.
– Rehabilitation of Westwood Street by the tribe.
– Rehabilitation of Teapot Dome Avenue by the county.
– Improvements at the intersections of Avenue 256 and Spruce Road and Highway 190 and Rockford Road by the tribe.
Estimates are the county’s share of those costs would total more than $1.85 million, while the Tule tribe would pay about $2.09 in lieu of taxes being imposed against the tribe to pay for the improvements, which includes installing traffic signals and roundabouts to accommodate the added traffic from the new casino, should it be built near the Porterville Municipal Airport.
In addition, as part of the agreement, the Tule River Tribe agrees to pay the county $3.5 million for sheriff’s law enforcement services, which would work with the tribe’s law enforcement arm, casino security and Porterville police.
The tribe also would build a fire department near the casino and establish its own fire department, which would enter into a mutual-aid agreement with the county and be serviced by the county’s emergency dispatch center.
“Tribe agrees to a one-time payment of $196,000 towards a Type 1 fire engine and related equipment to be housed at Station 19 in Porterville,” a summary of the agreement states.
“If Tribe does not establish a fire department, as intended, the tribe agrees to make annual payments of $48,667 to the county for fire services.”
The tribe has operated Eagle Mountain since 1996 on tribal land 17 miles east of Porterville, but the drive to and from Porterville is along a narrow, windy road that some drivers consider unsafe, particularly at night, prompting some potential customers to avoid the trip to the casino.
As such, tribal leaders have been working for about the past five years to get authorization to relocate the casino to a 40-acre parcel owned by the Tule River tribe near the airport.
If successful, the tribe’s plans include building a 100,000-square-foot casino; a 175-room, multi-story hotel; 30,000 square feet of food and beverage facilities that would include a sports bar; a 25,000-square-foot events center with an entertainment venue; and a tertiary water treatment plant.
The agreement between the county and the tribe allows for the tribe to forward a request to the governor to put the 40 acres near the airport into trust as a part of the tribe’s sovereign nation.
The state and the tribe also can start to negotiate a new gambling compact before the relocation plan can advance.
“The tribe has remained committed to ensuring the relocation project is a project that not only contributes to the success of the tribe, but also to the surrounding community,” tribal Chairman Neil Peyron said in a joint press release with the county. “The county MOU is a strong reflection of that commitment.”
“The County and the Tribe have benefited from a productive relationship for many years, and we are pleased to have reached a mutual agreement in mitigating the impacts associated with relocating Eagle Mountain Casino,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Pete Vander Poel stated in the release. “We appreciate and are supportive of the tribe’s efforts to improve our local economy while also improving county infrastructure benefiting all Tulare County residents.”
The release continues, “the tribe and county officials are excited about the new employment opportunities the relocation project will offer and the positive economic impact the relocation project will have on the Tribe and the surrounding community. As one of the largest employers in the area, there is broad public support for the relocation of the Eagle Mountain Casino, because it will allow current employees a shorter commute time, provide additional employment opportunities and increase tourism in the area.”