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Opposition fierce to proposed North County casino

By Rachel Lippmann

Clayton, MO – A proposed casino project in north St. Louis County is pitting resident groups, churches and conservationists against unions and government bodies in the region.

The St. Louis County planning commission heard nearly three hours of testimony Monday night on the $360 million project, which would sit on about 377 acres just south of the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, near the intersection of Interstate 270 and Riverview Drive. The developer needs to change the zoning to allow for the construction of the casino, 300-room hotel, and 18-hole golf course.

The developer has several casino operators interested in the project, said Ed Griesedieck, a lawyer for the developer, North County Development LLC. But the operators do not want to pursue a gaming license until they are sure the county is supportive of the project.

Opponents like Peggy Rustige, the president of the Riverview Drive Improvement Association, want to stop the project before it gets that far.

"We can go along with a golf course if the county is so inclined to build one," she said. "We could go along with some other development there that would speak to the betterment and leave something to the future generations." The project will require a review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because it sits in a flood plain. And the National Fish and Wildlife Service may have to weight in because the area is home to migratory birds. Other opponents objected morally to an expansion of gambling into the North County area.

But local government officials said the area could use the jobs and tax revenue the casino project would bring.

"We have a critical mission within this region - saving lives, and saving property," said Rick Rognan of the Spanish Lake Fire Protection District board, which voted unanimously to endorse the casino. "The increased tax revenue gives us an opportunity to rebuild our fire stations."

"The status quo is that this is number six or seven in the top ten dying areas of the country," said Griesedieck, the developer's lawyer. "Jobs are going down, there are no wages, the school districts, the fire protection, and the others workers aren't able to support the people that they're there to try and support."

The planning commission could issue its recommendation in September. The County Council has the final say on any rezoning issues.