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Casino owners could chip in millions on new Highway 65-99 link

County in talks with Auburn tribe behind Thunder Valley
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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The Auburn based tribe that owns Thunder Valley Casino could step up with $24 million to financially energize construction of a new road between Highway 65 in Placer County and Highway 99 in Sutter County.

The funding would come in the form of an advance, with $9 million in cash that would not have to be paid back. The remainder would be returned to the tribe through payments in lieu of property taxes paid to the county by the tribe.

During discussions to update a memorandum of understanding between the United Auburn Indian Community and the county, the idea of the tribe advancing up to $24 million was broached. Under the proposal, the county would pay $24 million.

The total of $48 million would provide the needed funding to move forward on the first phase of the Placer Parkway, which would initially extend from Highway 65 to Foothills Boulevard North, and past the Athens Avenue casino resort in the unincorporated Lincoln area. Plans are to extend Placer Parkway to Highway 99.

United Auburn Indian Community officials were present July 10 when the Board of Supervisors approved an amended memorandum of understanding with the tribe that includes its interest in taking 188 acres on six parcels south of Athens Avenue into trust for non-casino economic development purposes.

Remaining in place are annual payments to the county’s Placer Legacy open-space program of $200,000 and $50,000 to a problem gaming fund.

The tribe will also continue to pay for Sheriff’s Office costs associated with the casino property. The amount is adjusted annually based on casino-related law-enforcement activity and county costs to provide Sheriff’s Office services. Costs were $2.4 million in the past year.  The United Auburn Indian Community also paid $4 million in staffing, operations and maintenance for other emergency services.

While the tribe made no commitments at the July 10 meeting to move forward on the $24 million funding, supervisors voted to direct staff to negotiate a funding an reimbursement agreement and return with a potential pact.

Gene Whitehouse, tribal chairman, told supervisors that the United Auburn Community and the county had forged one of the unique relationships in the country. As well as the county board, he also thanked tribal attorney Howard Dickstein of Sacramento for the work he has done on their behalf.

Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery had praise for the tribe.

“This has been a mutually beneficial relationship,” Montgomery said.