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Sunday, May 20, 2012

UPDATED: “Carcieri Fix” goes up and down

Obama budget rejected; “Fix” attached to Senate housing bill
By Will Collette

Sen. Akaka addresses tribal leaders at Capitol rally
UPDATE: The Senate Indian housing bill containing the "Carcieri Fix" (described below) has been approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Committee Chair and Carcieri Fix advocate Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) attached a detailed report to the bill containing a scathing rebuttal to the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar that stripped many sovereignty rights from hundreds of Indian tribes.

ORIGINAL ARETICLE: This bill In its effort to keep its followers on edge, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance has periodically posted warnings about federal efforts to enact the “Carcieri Fix.” 

This is essentially a legislative “patch” that fixes a defect in the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act that was cited by the US Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of the State of Rhode Island and the town of Charlestown in its lawsuit to block the Narragansett Indian Tribe from placing land it owns under trust with the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Carcieri v. Salazar decision not only addressed Charlestown’s specific complaint, but effectively stripped hundreds of tribes across the US who achieved federal recognition since 1934 of key sovereignty rights These tribes united to push for the “Fix” with the support of the Obama Administration and several senior Senators.

The CCA warned that the Obama Administration intended to include the “Carcieri Fix” in the President’s Budget proposed to Congress. The CCA should be relieved to learn that the President’s Budget was defeated unanimously in both houses. All four of Rhode Island’s members of Congress voted NO.
This was not unexpected since it has been many, many years since the Congress has passed a President’s budget, preferring to write their own in their own peculiar way.

Sen. Akaka is retiring at the end of this year.
But the CCA can still send out its emergency alarms because there is another piece of federal legislation to worry about.

The leading supporter of the “Carcieri Fix,” Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) amended the “HEARTH Act” (S-676) to include the Carcieri fix. HEARTH stands for “Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership.”

The House of Representatives, which rarely passes anything without a political bloodbath, actually passed the House version of HEARTH (HR 205) on a unanimous 400-0 vote, though without the Carcieri fix . 

If the Senate passes their version of HEARTH with Akaka’s Carcieri fix amendment still attached, the House and Senate versions would then go to a conference committee to work out the differences in the bills. A final Conference bill would then have to be passed by both houses of Congress before the legislation is sent to President Obama for his signature.

The CCA sees a direct link between a Carcieri Fix and the Narragansetts setting aside enough land in Charlestown under Interior Department trusteeship to be able to build a Casino over the objections of town residents. That, of course, would be pretty bad for those of us who live in Charlestown and aren’t Narragansetts. Let the record reflect that I wouldn't like that one bit.

A "Carcieri Fix" does not automatically mean a Foxwoods on Route 1
in Charlestown
However, there are lots of steps and many practical obstacles to an Indian casino in Charlestown.

If the Narragansetts do end up placing land under US Interior Department trust, ironically this might be a case where our local federal overseer, Charlie Vandemoer, might actually intervene to make sure a casino doesn't trash the local environment.

Even though he works for Fish and Wildlife, and under the Carcieri Fix scenario, the Narragansett land would be under Bureau of Indian Affairs jurisdiction, Charlie is, after all, the Interior’s man on the scene. When it comes to the use of federal land, FWS often has the last say.

But rather than try to build a resort casino in Charlestown where water, sewage, environmental impact, infrastructure and transportation are serious issues, I think the tribe would look at other options – presuming all the dominos fell into place.

A far more likely scenario is another attempt by the tribe to try to secure a site in a part of the state where they don't run into the infrastructure problems inherent in a Charlestown site. If the Carcieri Fix was enacted, the Narragansetts could put land they own into federal trust just about anywhere - it could be in West Warwick just as easily as Charlestown. To float a project that could secure needed financing, the site would need to make more logistical sense than Charlestown.

Even if the tribe went back to their West Warwick plan, the economics of gaming have changed. It’s hard to imagine how, if all the current legislative barriers were breached and all the environmental and physical challenges were resolved, where the financing for yet another southern New England casino would come from.

If the Narragansetts get into the gaming market, they would be coming in behind the two existing Indian casinos in nearby Connecticut, the two slot parlors already in Rhode Island that might soon be expanding into full casinos and the three resort casinos and one slot parlor that will be built in nearby Massachusetts.

The Narragansetts' site would be the eighth major gaming establishment within roughly a 100 mile radius. Sure, there are a lot of people who like to gamble, but many industry experts question whether those other seven establishments are already way too much for the market to bear.

Indeed, the Westerly Sun ran an Associated Press story talking about the saturation of the casino market on Page 1 in Friday's newspaper.

I don’t want a casino just a little down Route 1 from me, and I’ll proudly fly a NIMBY flag to that effect. But I’m not panicked by the potential of a Carcieri Fix.

I think that ultimately we need to find a way to work with the tribe, in mutual self-interest, to support their efforts to bring prosperity to their members in a way that does not entail the destruction of this beautiful town where we all live.