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Semiahmoo band hasn't proposed casino but willing to talk

Semiahmoo First Nation band councillor Joanne Charles. - Black Press file photo
Semiahmoo First Nation band councillor Joanne Charles.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

A Semiahmoo reserve casino would have the same advantages of proximity to Highway 99 and the U.S. border as one now proposed nearby in South Surrey.

It would also be closer to an existing transit route and the White Rock restaurants and shops, according to Semiahmoo band councillor Joanne Charles.

"It would be separate from a residential area," she said, adding it also wouldn't mean development of land previously zoned for agriculture.

"We have a direct access right off of the highway."

Charles stressed her band has not proposed a casino but did tell Surrey council some time ago that it wanted to build a hotel/convention centre.

"Interestingly, it's coincidental that shortly after that discussion [developer] Bob Cheema showed up with his proposal before [Surrey] council."

Asked if a gambling component had been considered internally by the band, Charles said it's "always something the band is open to considering."

She said a major development on band land, with or without a casino, could help the Semiahmoo fix their inadequate infrastructure – many residents have failing septic systems with no sewer hookup and unsafe well water.

"We've been on a full boil water advisory since 2005," Charles said.

The City of Surrey will collect an estimated $3.1 million more each year in shared gambling profits if the Gateway casino is built.

It would be visible from Semiahmoo reserve land, Charles noted.

She said the band would be even closer neighbours to the 10 Avenue property had portions of the reserve not been carved off by government years ago to build the nearby Highway 99 interchange and Peace Arch park.

A letter from Charles, read out at a Wednesday public forum staged by casino opponents, said the Semiahmoo First Nation "cannot make comment at this time whether the SFN is in support or against the casino."The letter said the SFN will require "full, meaningful consulation."

Asked to comment on the potential for a casino on Semiahmoo reserve land instead, White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said it would still generate strong opposition from local residents.

"There's not a great deal of difference," he said. "It brings the positives closer to us and it also brings the negatives closer to us as well. On balance it's hard to say which is better."

Baldwin recalled that there were discussions several years ago – when he was city administrator – of the reserve potentially hosting a casino.

"The big benefit for Semiahmoo First Nation is that if the casino did go on their property it would mean a lot of infrastructure work and that is something they are in great need of."

Baldwin noted it can be more complex to reach agreement on major development on Semiahmoo land than on other reserves — where a band council vote is final – because each family has a licence to the land they live on.

 

See related story:
South Surrey a 'prime' site for aboriginal casino

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