Effort to block Sky River Casino’s plans in Elk Grove rejected by D.C. appeals judges

Darrell Smith
·2 min read

A federal appellate court Friday removed a final roadblock in the Wilton Rancheria tribe’s effort to build its long-sought casino, rejecting a local group’s effort to stop the Interior Department from acquiring the land that’s now the site of the planned resort.

The three-judge D.C. Court of Appeals panel, in its 24-page opinion released Friday, turned back a lengthy legal fight by advocacy group Stand Up for California! and casino opponents Patty Johnson, Lynn Wheat and Joe Teixeira, to halt the transaction.

“Time after time, courts have rejected these desperate and baseless attempts to stop our project,” Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Jesus Tarango said in a statement following the decision. “We had to fight for federal recognition. We had to fight for our land. And now, thanks to the U.S. Court of Appeals, we’ve taken another major step toward our goal of self-sufficiency.”

The 800-member Wilton tribe lost its federal recognition in the late 1950s, regained the status in 2009, but went nearly another decade before then-California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state compact that allowed the tribe to open up gaming.

Today, the Wilton Rancheria is Sacramento County’s only federally recognized tribe.

Stand Up unsuccessfully contested Interior’s plan to transfer title from the Rancheria’s first choice — a 282-acre site near Galt — to its present 36 acres in Elk Grove near Highway 99 and Kammerer Road.

Stand Up argued the Interior Department ignored ongoing legal challenges in the state courts seeking to block the land acquisition and Stand Up’s pleas to stop the transfer of title to the Elk Grove land.

The D.C. court rejected a series of later attempts by the Penryn-based group to block the department’s final action in 2017 to take the Elk Grove land into trust. The federal panel also denied Stand Up’s claim that an Interior Department deputy official lacked the authority to sign off on the department’s decision to acquire the land or to take the title in trust for the tribe.

Lastly, the court flatly rejected Stand Up’s argument that Interior officials failed to prepare new or supplemental environmental impact documents after the department selected the alternate Elk Grove site and later rushed the turnaround time between the end of public comment on the project’s potential impact and making its final decision to take the land.

The judges ruled that Interior officials did not need to file either a supplemental or new environmental study after selecting the Elk Grove site for the Wilton Rancheria’s casino.

The Wilton Rancheria and partner Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming broke ground in March on the $400 million Sky River Casino, with plans to open in late 2022.

Rancheria leaders say the casino revenue will eventually pave the way to self-sufficiency for its people while improving housing, health care and educational opportunities for the tribe.