Twentynine Palms Tribe Has Initiated Work On Tortoise Rock Casino

(April 19) TWENTYNINE PALMS — The Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians is moving ahead with what has been dubbed the Tortoise Rock casino project on tribal land in Twentynine Palms, and is seeking to have the gaming facility open by late this year.
The casino will become the third gambling house in San Bernardino County and the second one owned by the Twentynine Palms Band, which since 1995 has operated the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella in Riverside County.
In 2007, the tribe submitted an application for a 60,000-square-foot casino with 350 slot machines along with table games, a bingo hall, two restaurants, a sports bar, an RV park that would accommodate up to 100 RVs and also provide tent camping and rustic cabins, campfire rings and barbecue facilities, as well as hookups for  electricity, water, cable TV, and wastewater treatment. The project also called for wireless Internet access, swimming pools, showers, locker rooms, and a laundry facility.
The tribe temporarily abandoned the plan for the facility to be located on a site south of Baseline Road and west of Adobe Road, after both the Department of Defense and the National Park Service stated their opposition to what the tribe then called the Nüwü Casino. The Marine Corps was less than enthused at the prospect of having the temptation of a gaming enterprise at such easy disposal to its troops. The project site is located within the city of Twentynine Palms’ National Park Buffer Overlay, which is intended to deter development that will interfere with the natural panorama.
Two-and-a-half  years ago, the tribe sought to relocate the proposed Nüwü Casino some 23 miles away, in Joshua  Tree, on a 130-acre parcel on the north side of Twentynine Palms Highway west of White Feather Road east of downtown Joshua Tree and just east of Desert View Homes’ metal dinosaurs. That site was well outside the tribe’s reservation and what is recognized as the tribe’s ancestral land, so the tribe was required to file an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in a public trust and transfer the tribe’s right from its tribal property to the Joshua Tree site. That would have involved making a case that the tribe had ancestral roots in the Joshua Tree area, where it had an historical relationship to the property in question by virtue of aboriginal activity, including hunting, foraging and trading in particular.  That application would have entailed an anthropological study to demonstrate the tribe’s ancestors ranged into Joshua Tree.
Tribal Chief Darrel Mike and his advisors, including the band’s chief financial officer, Steve Gralla, reassessed the likelihood of prevailing in a bruising battle with those opposed to locating the casino in Joshua Tree.
The local land use authority vested in the city of Twentynine Palms is not applicable to tribal land, since Indian Tribes are held to be sovereign nations.
Twentynine Palms interim city manager Homer Croy this week told the Sentinel, “That is Indian tribal land and it falls under a different jurisdiction. It is my understanding that some of our [city] council members attend the tribal council meetings, where those [land use] issues are discussed. The authority is the tribe’s. They can work with us as far as mitigating those issues but we have to wait to find out what their decisions are. They are the final authority and the city has no control.”
By early this year, the tribe abandoned entirely its plan for the Joshua Tree casino and instead submitted a draft environmental impact report for the project within 29 Palms to the state. That draft has been finalized and accepted. This week, Croy told the Sentinel, “I was out at the site and they have the property fenced off and are saturating the ground for pre-grading.”
The environmental report for the project, prepared by Sacramento-based Environmental Science Associates, says the 30,000 square-foot casino will sit on a site extending to cover a footprint of roughly 32 of the 160 acres at that location owned by the tribe and will include a parking lot with 450 parking spaces.  The casino will be 35 feet high and offer its customers 500 slot machines, six card or roulette tables, a delicatessen, restaurant, bar, administrative offices and ancillary structures. The casino will employ approximately 100 full- and part-time workers. A tortoise-exclusion barrier will be erected to protect that species from danger that might befall it on the to-be-developed property.
In keeping with its presence within the National Park Buffer Overlay, the casino’s design is to incorporate natural colors in its building materials and paint schemes that complement the existing landscape as well as to shield its external lighting to keep light from being projected upward or onto adjacent property, in keeping with Twentynine Palms’ Night Sky Ordinance, according to the draft environmental statement for the project.
The casino will be visible from Palm Vista Elementary School on Baseline Road, located 3,375 feet northeast of the project, as well as the  Oasis of Mara, which is a half mile northeast of the site. According to Environmental Science Associates, the one-story structure will obstruct to some degree the scenic views from residences to the north and east, Palm Vista Elementary to the northeast, the Oasis of Mara and those of motorists transiting Baseline Road, Adobe Road and Utah Trail. That obstruction will not be total, according to the draft report. “[T]he tops of mountainous areas to the south and west would still be visible behind the proposed development,” according to the draft statement.
Some negative impact on air quality in the nearby area will result from construction activity, according to the environmental impact report.
Water to the project will be provided by the Twentynine Palms Water District, which will extend services to the site by means of an 8-inch water line on Baseline Road.

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