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Madera Indian Casino plans speed up

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MADERA, CA - The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced Tuesday it has dropped plans to study an alternative location for the North Fork Rancheria casino. The BIA says it will not study the casino potential of the so-called Old Mill site near the mountain town of North Fork, but instead focus on the casino site off Highway 99 near the town of Madera.

"Upon careful consideration, the Pacific regional office has concluded…that the Old Mill site cannot be considered as a reasonable alternative," the BIA's acting regional director, Amy Dutschke wrote Sunday.

The decision eliminates another year of environmental and economic studies that would have been spent on the Old Mill site, and clears the way for the delayed environmental impact statement on the Highway 99 site. This could bring final decisions from the Interior Department by the end of this year. The 305-acre site is not currently owned by the North Fork tribe, so the tribe needs approval from the Interior Department to take the property into federal trust.

"We're very excited about it," Elaine Fink, tribal council chairperson of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. "We knew the Old Mill site wasn't an option…it's just not feasible."

The planned casino will feature 2,500 slot machines, 70 table games, multiple restaurants and a hotel.

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