Saturday, November 29, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 38
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 29th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 21

Chumash to hold public meeting on casino expansion plans

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Another round of future plans will inevitably lead to another round of controversy for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. This time, it’ll be surrounding the tribe’s plans for the Chumash Casino Resort.

In mid-June, the tribe released an environmental evaluation regarding its casino expansion plans; it will hold a meeting on July 31 to receive public comment on the project.

The public comment period on the evaluation will close on Aug. 14. Vincent Armenta, chairman of the tribe, said the tribe would respond to public comments in a final environmental evaluation.

“We are not expecting significant opposition from the community, but we are anticipating the same level of hostility and conflict from the small group of individuals who have opposed the tribe on everything from our liquor license to purchasing hotels in Solvang,” Armenta said.

One of those groups, POLO (Preservation of Los Olivos) sent out an email to its constituents expressing opposition to the plans, and encouraging them to review the tribe’s water rights.

“There are many areas of concern with an expansion project of this size in the small town of Santa Ynez … including the impact on water resources,” the email said.

Expansion plans include the addition of up to 215 new hotel rooms in a 12-story hotel tower, as well as the addition of 584 parking spaces and expansion of the casino area. In total, the evaluation details 435,000 square feet of new construction and renovating 150,000 square feet of the existing facility. The tribe anticipates water usage would increase about 40 acre-feet per year.

That increased water usage appears to be where POLO’s beef with the plans explodes. In the evaluation, the tribe refers to something known as Winters’ rights to water, and POLO assured constituents that its lawyers were looking into that water rights claim.

Winters’ rights are based on a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1908. The case, Winters v. United States, defines the water rights of tribes as having a priority date with the Indian Reservation was established. The reservation in Santa Ynez was established in 1906.

Armenta explains these rights as being quantified based on the amount of farming that could occur on a reservation and the amount of water necessary to sustain it. So Winters’ rights are not unlimited.

But, Winters’ rights are beside the point. The tribe is trying to decide the best option for obtaining the extra 40-acre-feet of water the new facilities would need. There are two options: pull water in from Santa Ynez Water Conservation District, which already provides water to the casino, or pump it from the four wells that already exist on the reservation.

“The tribe also has the same groundwater rights as its neighbors,” Armenta said.

Visit chumashee.com to read the environmental evaluation. The July 31 meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in the Samala Showroom at the Chumash Casino, 3400 E. Highway 246, Santa Ynez.