With more than 2 years of legal arguments and lawsuits, a federal court in Washington D.C. has dismissed a Butte County decision on April 14th, 2009 to block a Mechoopda Casino located on Highway 149, about a mile east of Highway 99. Representative of the tribe and the county both released announcements that US District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had dismissed the county’s lawsuit against the casino.
Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert said that the proposed casino location on Highway 149 will have serious effects on public, traffic and environmental conditions around the area. Kennedy Jr. added that for the past several years, the developer of the casino refused to cooperate with Butte County to find an alternative location. As a result, Butte County had no other option other than this case. Throughout the whole process, Butte County maintained in that the case was about environmental related issued concerning the proposed casino site of the tribe and not a personal attack on the Mechoopda tribe.
Even so, the lawsuit, which was filed against the NIGC (National Indian Gaming Commission) and the Department of the Interior, sought to convince the court that the agencies could not give the Chico Rancheria Mechoopda the right to utilize the land because the Mechoopda did not qualify as a tribe.
Based on a review conducted in 2006 by Professor Stephen Dow Beckham of Lewis and Clark and College in Portland, Oregon, the lawsuit charged that the Chico Rancheria of the Mechoopda Indians was not a tribe in any historic sense. But was a combination of eleven groups that had little to do with the Mechoopda Indian tribe.
Butte County claimed that if the Chico Rancheria organization was not a legitimate tribe, the federal agencies could not give them the power to construct a casino facility on the Highway 149 property. Judge Kennedy said that the court has considered all factors presented by both parties during the oral argument but Judge Kennedy feels that Butte County has done enough to justify their case. Tribal spokesperson Doug Elmets said that their casino project is doing well despite the hurdles presented by Butte County.
Elmets said that the tribe plans to get make a compact with the state that will allow for gaming on the 645 casino site. Butte County is planning to appeal the case. According to the records obtained by the Mechoopda tribe, the lawsuit had cost Butte County nearly 322,800. Elmets said that was money that was spend carelessly on a frivolous case.