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Hard Rock casino proposed near Mettler reaches new milestone

Draft environmental statement a significant step forward for $600 million project

Casino rendering

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

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has finished a draft environmental impact statement for the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino proposed for a 306-acre plot of land just west of Mettler.

The completion represents a significant step forward for the $600 million project, which is expected to radically transform the agricultural area about a half-hour south of Bakersfield, bringing with it 2,000 permanent jobs, as well as function as a homeland for the Tejon Indian Tribe, which is behind the project.

The draft environmental impact statement, known as an EIS, is used to measure the potential impacts the project could have on the surrounding area. Everything from air quality to aesthetics are considered when drafting an EIS. Findings of significant environmental impacts could hinder the project moving forward.

But in the draft EIS, the bureau determined the hotel and casino wouldn't cause any significant impacts as long as mitigation efforts by casino operators were made. The bureau found the casino wouldn't significantly impact water resources, another key area of concern.

The public will have the opportunity to submit public comments on the draft EIS until July 27. The bureau plans to hold a virtual public hearing on July 8 to listen to statements virtually. Details on how to attend the Zoom meeting will be released closer to the meeting date, the bureau said on the project’s website.

The EIS involves thousands of pages of documents describing the myriad of ways the casino and hotel could change the surrounding area. Representatives for the Tejon Tribe and Hard Rock couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

The project has received local support. The Kern County Board of Supervisors have inked an intergovernmental agreement to provide public safety services to the casino over a period of 20 years for a fee of $218 million.

"The benefits are exceptional for law enforcement and fire services as well as the county General Fund,” Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt said in an email to The Californian. “The thousands of jobs in both construction and operations are needed now more than ever. We appreciate the cooperation the Tejon Tribe, and their partners the Seminole Tribe, owners of the Hard Rock, have shown with understanding the county and community needs and we look forward to them getting their approvals and starting construction.”

The environmental review has been a work in progress since 2015 as the Bureau of Indian Affairs has studied the impacts of the proposal. But with the draft EIS complete, the end may finally be drawing in sight.

After public comments are heard on the draft EIS, the bureau will complete the final EIS, which will be sent to the Secretary of the Interior for a determination on the project’s approval. California’s governor must also concur with the secretary’s determination in order for gaming to occur on the site. A timeline of when the casino could open hasn't been established.

The sprawling casino complex is expected to include a 400-room hotel, RV park, 13 restaurants, live entertainment venue, spa and fitness facility, conference center, healthcare facility and housing.

Several alternative plans, including non-gaming use of the land and moving the project to a 118-acre site near Maricopa, were also analyzed by the bureau for consideration.

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

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