A casino project proposed by the Tejon Indian Tribe for a 306-acre area south of Bakersfield has taken an important step forward after years of work by U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In February, the bureau released the project's “scoping report,” a document that identified potential environmental impacts of the proposed casino.
The bureau will use the scoping report to develop an all-encompassing environmental impact statement, which will be used to make a recommendation to the U.S. Department of the Interior for its decision on if the tribe is allowed to construct the casino on what is now farmland just west of Mettler.
The bureau hopes to complete the draft environmental impact statement before the end of the year, to be followed by a public comment period prior to making the recommendation.
The tribe gained sovereignty in 2012, after the government admitted that the tribe was improperly omitted from the list of federally recognized tribes due to an administrative error. As of 2017, the tribe claimed 944 members that largely resided in Kern County.
The casino for the Tejon Tribe has been in discussion for years. Although the tribe already owns the land on which it hopes to build the casino as well as an office in Bakersfield, none of the land it owns is recognized as sovereign by the U.S. government.
By constructing a casino, the tribe said in the report it hoped to reestablish a homeland while creating a revenue source that could fund educational, health and governmental services for tribal members.
According to diagrams presented in the scoping report, the tribe hopes to build a 165,500-square-foot casino with restaurants and a 400-room hotel. The plan also left space open for an organic farm, residential areas, a community park and tribe administration headquarters.
The Tejon Tribe did not respond to requests for comment.
Potential issues brought up in the scoping process included concerns over increased crime and worse air quality from the industrial operations that would take place at the casino.
A watchdog group from Frazier Park said the casino complex would require the destruction of several Kern Lake Yokuts villages.
“Even if the artifacts are removed to a tribal repository at Bakersfield University (as is proposed), this formerly highly populated and therefore highly important site will be obliterated,” the watchdog group wrote.
A total of 164 comment letters were received by the bureau for its scoping report. Of the letters, 135 individuals signed a statement opposing the casino on the grounds that it would not be good for the environment or families in Kern County.
A quick review of the comments did not reveal any in support of the casino.
In 2015, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted on a resolution saying they were concerned about the adverse impacts a casino would bring to the county.
The environmental review process for new tribal casinos has been known to take up to nine years, said Chris Broussard, an environmental protection specialist for the bureau.
He said he would not estimate a timeline for the final environmental impact statement.
Kern County residents will just have to wait to see if the federal government will allow the casino project to move forward.