Timbisha Tribe Receives Approval for Ridgecrest Casino After Suing DOI but Fight with City is Brewing

Posted on: June 5, 2019, 03:49h. 

Last updated on: June 5, 2019, 03:52h.

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of Death Valley has finally received the go-ahead from the Department of the Interior to build a casino in Ridgecrest, California, just two weeks after it filed a lawsuit against the department, claiming it was deliberately obstructing the process due to “undue political influence.”

The DOI claimed the hold up in the Timbisha application had been caused by the need to consult House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, which was in fact not a requirement of the process at all. (Image: 23ABC News)

A news release from Nigel White, a casino developer working with the Timbisha, claims the department’s agreement to take land into trust for the tribe was part of a “settlement” arising from the May lawsuit. Mysteriously, the DOI letter of approval was delivered to the tribe on June 3 but dated September 27, 2018.

In October 2018, just weeks after the letter had been signed and dated, the tribal representatives were told that that DOI Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior James Cason did not plan to approve its application until he had consulted US Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California), the current US House Minority Leader, whose congressional district includes Ridgecrest. But McCarthy’s approval was not a requirement of the process.

City Terminates Land Sale

In December 2018 — apparently unaware that officials at the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had already approved the land into trust application for the Ridgecrest parcel — the City Council voted to terminate the casino land sale agreement, which had been signed in October 2016.

The agreement was permitted to expire after one year if the sale hadn’t gone through, but White and the Timbisha paid $113,000 to extend the agreement for another year as they awaited the department’s decision.

No money was paid to extend the agreement beyond October 2018, however, leading the City Council to conclude it was free to wash its hands of a project officials complained had become divisive to the community.

But the tribe claims a municipal services agreement (MSA) signed by both parties is still binding, which means it still has the legal right to purchase the plot.

‘Economic Devastation’ Threat to Ridgecrest

White’s release threatens to sue the town if the sale does not go ahead, citing the fate of Mammoth Lakes, California as a cautionary tale. In 2012, Mammoth Lakes was forced to declare bankruptcy after it was sued for $30 million, having been forced by environmentalists to back out of an Airport Development Agreement with a private developer.

“…[L]egal challenges could be economically devastating to the City of Ridgecrest given its financial challenges and need for more public safety, infrastructure development, affordable housing, and employment opportunities for its citizens,” the news release states.

Meanwhile, questions remain about the DOI’s apparent inaction, which conveniently allowed the land-sale agreement to expire just weeks after the BIA had OK’d the trust process.