ROHNERT PARK -- The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria today announced construction has started on the tribe’s resort and casino project just west of Rohnert Park, although the tribe and casino backers are still waiting for formal federal approval on the controversial project.

Grading on approximately 64 acres of the tribe’s 254-acre reservation is the first step in the construction of the resort and casino being developed near Rohnert Park, the tribe said in a statement.

It "signals the start of the nearly 900 construction jobs that will be created by the tribe’s project," according to the tribe.

The site grading comes shortly after a public hearing with the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week, at which the tribe said it was confirmed by the county's legal counsel that construction could begin before the finalization of a memorandum of understanding between the tribe and the county, according to the tribe.

The casino, which would be the Bay Area's largest with 3,000-slot machines and a 200-room hotel, must also meet federal approval from the Department of Interior, which has yet to issue a decision. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a tribal compact that approved the casino, but it still needs a final go-ahead from the federal government.

Jeff Brax, an attorney with the office of County Counsel in Sonoma County, said what the office had found is that there is nothing in the state compact that precludes the tribe, or the casino's financial backers, Station Casinos of Las Vegas, from beginning construction before the tribe and the county enter into negotiations, which will occur if or when the federal government signs off on the plans. 

"The state compact doesn’t address construction," Mr. Brax said.

The compact instead addresses gaming approvals, he noted.

"It’s on federal land, I don’t think the feds are inclined to stop them and doesn’t look like the state is either," he said.

The project has drawn vigorous opposition. Opponents contend construction of the large-scale casino will negatively impact the quality of life in and around Rohnert Park as well as impact traffic and raise environmental concerns.

The tribe also announced it selected Sylmar-based Tutor Perini Building Corp. as general contractor for the project. Las Vegas-based KGA Architecture is designing the structure, and The Friedmutter Design Group, also of Las Vegas, the interior.

Additional construction support will be provided by Tutor Perini's sister company, Redwood City-based Rudolph and Sletten.