Casino rendering

A rendering of the casino proposed by the Tejon Indian Tribe and its development partner, Hard Rock International.

The federal government is nearing a decision on the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino planned for south of Bakersfield.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs recently completed the final draft of an environmental impact statement on the development, starting a 30-day countdown before the Department of the Interior can choose whether the project can move forward.

Officially logged into the government registry Friday, the soonest a decision might come forward is now late November.

The environmental report’s final draft brings to a close a five-year process the Bureau of Indian Affairs undertook once the Tejon Indian Tribe formally proposed building a casino on farmland south of Bakersfield.

The $600 million project has been widely supported by local elected officials, and could bring up to 2,000 permanent jobs to the area.

In its report, the Bureau of Indian Affairs outlined several options the Department of Interior could select.

The most expansive options would allow the Tejon Tribe to build a 400-room hotel and casino, along with an RV park and live entertainment venue, on a 306-acre plot of land just west of Mettler.

Another option would move the same casino complex to a 118-acre plot along Maricopa Highway, less than one mile west of the Mettler site. While essentially similar to the first option, the Maricopa site would limit the tribe’s ability to place housing and government service buildings on the property. However, the Environmental Protection Agency noted in a letter that the Mettler location potentially placed key parts of the complex’s infrastructure within a floodplain.

Other options include a smaller hotel and casino at the Mettler site, or just a simple organic farm. The Bureau of Indian Affairs could also reject the project outright.

The final draft of the environmental impact statement included dozens of comments submitted by members of the public. During a July meeting, the casino received widespread support from people who described themselves as Kern County residents.

The department responded in depth to those comments it said were “substantive.” One of the substantive comments came from Stand Up California!, a statewide organization that has spoken out against the casino in the past.

Its letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs criticized the government agency, saying the environmental impact statement was deeply flawed and ignored the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic fallout.

“The economic benefit of the casino may not be realized because ongoing public health concerns are likely to result in reduced attendance,” Stand Up wrote. “Even if the pandemic were to end in the next six months, the public health issues this pandemic has brought to the fore are not going to go away.”

In its response, the agency said construction on the project was not likely to start until 2022, and that other casinos had opened with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

“It should also be noted that the socioeconomic benefit of the project alternatives, including job creation, wage income earned by local employees, and state and local tax revenues, may be more impactful than originally estimated in the Draft EIS due to the economic situation,” the response read.

In the report, the bureau noted the full Mettler site would give the tribe the best opportunity of attracting sustainable revenue. The bureau listed the Mettler site as its preferred alternative, saying environmental impacts could be mitigated through actions taken by the tribe.

To view the final report, visit tejoneis.com.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.