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Bill to block casino could increase water rates

If U.S. Congressman Trent Franks’ H.R. 2938 (Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Clarification Act) passes, Arizonans’ water bills may increase again. But his bill isn’t actually about water at all. The bill was submitted to prevent construction of a casino on a strip of land between Peoria and Glendale. The 25-year-old government treaty with the Tohono O’odham Nation allows the tribe to acquire land to replace the part of its reservation that was flooded due to construction of the Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River. In the deal, the tribe also surrendered its rights to 32,000 acre-feet of water each year.

What would happen if Congress breaks part of the treaty and takes away the tribe’s ability to build a casino? The Tohono O’odhams would have every right to reclaim their water rights. According to an estimate from a member of the Glendale City Council, Central Arizona Project (CAP) water costs Glendale approximately $108 per acre-foot. If the city had to buy back the 32,000 acre-feet of water, it would cost an additional $3.5 million annually at the current price, which is sure to rise in future years. And if Arizonans don’t want to buy the water, California would be more than happy to purchase that water, which we currently use.

Franks did not consider all the problems his treaty-breaking bill would create when he introduced it. I believe he introduced the bill at the urging of Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs and the two tribes that own local casinos and do not want competition cutting into their large profits.

The mayor has worked feverishly to leave a positive legacy. Three years of battling construction of the hotel-casino has consumed her, and may be her undoing. Perhaps she will be remembered negatively each year if Arizonans have to start paying for the 32,000 acre-feet of water we currently own.

At Franks’ Oct. 22 Town Hall meeting at Rio Vista Recreation Center in Peoria, he acknowledged that a large portion of the West Valley audience wanted the casino built, and felt like the jobs it would create are important to them. When citizens continued to question why he introduced such an unpopular bill his response was, “I am only against the casino because it would break the law.” He could not explain why he needed to change the law if it was already being broken.

Why do people in Washington continue trying to break agreements and treaties with our Native American neighbors?

— Ken Jones, Glendale

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