By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria casino resort next to Rohnert Park will be connected to the city’s sewer system under a deal approved by the City Council Tuesday.
“It is the environmentally superior alternative,” Mayor Jake Mackenzie said of the plan, which means the tribe will not build its own wastewater treatment plant or dispose of treated water on its Wilfred Avenue reservation.
But residents criticized the arrangement, saying it was put together too quickly and adopted without enough thought.
“It is going too fast,” said Eunice Edgington.
The agreement, approved 4-0 by the council, is designed to protect the city’s groundwater supplies and guard against other impacts, such as “objectionable odors” from wastewater treatment on the site, said city officials, who proposed it to the tribe.
“We’re trying to provide an alternative that has the least environmental impact,” said City Engineer Darrin Jenkins. The plan brings to bear one of the limited means available to the city of minimizing the project’s impacts, he said.
The alternative, said he and City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, was a wastewater treatment plant directly adjacent to Rohnert Park over which the city had no control. The tribe, as a sovereign nation, is largely exempt from local and state regulations.
The federal government’s 2010 approval of the project explicitly outlines the tribe’s options as including either connecting to the city’s sewer lines or building its own facility.
Also, a revenue-sharing contract the city and tribe negotiated in 2003 provided for the possibility of a connection to the city and sub-regional system.
The tribe plans a 3,000-slot machine, 317,750 square foot casino complex and, at a later date, a 200-room hotel on 66 acres of its 254-acre reservation just south of Home Depot.
Jenkins said the tribe would be limited to 410,000 gallons daily of discharge into the system. That includes the hotel, he said. The plan also leaves the city with excess sewer system capacity, even after including other, unrelated proposed and potential developments, he said.
Construction of two pipes, each less than a mile long, would be required, and the tribe is to pay all project costs under the deal. Also, the tribe is to pay standard sewer rates plus 10 percent extra.
Residents on Tuesday criticized the council for not disclosing that negotiations were underway, for hurrying its approval and for not fully analyzing the ramifications to the city.
“This thing’s been bounced around for a while; it’s the first I’ve seen or heard of it,” said David Grundman. “It’s ridiculous.”
Others said that if the city had to deal at all, then it should seek a better one.
“Don’t sell yourself and the people’s assets cheap,” said Betty Fredericks.
But city attorney Michelle Kenyon said inter-governmental agreements such as the one the council approved Tuesday had to be concluded within 90 days of a March 30 agreement between the state and the tribe that allowed the tribe to build the casino.
“What happens if we ask to continue this or say ‘No?’” said Councilwoman Gina Belforte.
“I don’t believe they will wait for future council meetings to decide what to do,” Jenkins said.
The arrangement will tie the casino project into a subregional wastewater treatment system managed by Santa Rosa that also serves Cotati and Sebastopol.
The system’s deputy director, David Guhin, said Tuesday before the meeting that the agreement has been examined and required inspection protocols are in place.
“From a sub-regional perspective it’s just like any other large customer,” he said.
Bringing a major new user online may also make future rate increases less, because debt service payments would be spread among more ratepayers, said Jenkins, the city engineer.
“I think what the city did tonight was in the best interests of the community, the environment and the tribe,” the tribe’s attorney, John Maier, said after the meeting.
Councilman Joe Callinan was absent.