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Delegation optimistic funding for Chickasaw cultural center will pass

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation are optimistic that legislation to help the Chickasaw Nation build a cultural center near Sulphur will be passed before the session ends.

Senate and House committees passed bills that authorize an exchange of land involving the city of Sulphur, the Chickasaws and the National Park Service.

If approved by Congress and the president, the tribe plans a Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center that would include a museum, an amphitheater and other attractions.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Wednesday he is hoping the legislation he wrote will go before the full House in the next few weeks. Cole wrote a letter to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, seeking to have the bill put on the House agenda, he said.

``We're trying to get this done in this Congress because we don't want to have to start all over again'' next year, Cole told The Oklahoman's Washington bureau.

Sens. Don Nickles and Jim Inhofe, both R-Okla., are sponsoring legislation similar to Cole's.

``We are optimistic about the prospect of its final approval this year,'' said Nickles' spokeswoman Rachel Oliphant. ``It should be placed on the legislative calendar in the next week or so.''

The Chickasaws are seeking a 29-acre tract of land in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, which is managed by the National Park Service.

The National Park Service has agreed to donate the tract in exchange for 39 acres the city of Sulphur would donate to the tribe and convey to the National Park Service.

The boundaries of the national recreation area would be revised under the legislation to reflect the exchange. The tracts are estimated to be of equal value.

Cole said questions have been raised about whether the tribe would conduct gaming at the cultural center.

The bill wouldn't bar gaming at the site, but Cole said tribal officials have said repeatedly that gaming isn't part of their plans.

``They have no intentions to do that,'' he said. ``They've offered all kinds of assurances.''

Cole secured $1 million in federal funds earlier this year to study the feasibility of an exit off Interstate 35 for the Chickasaw Nation's casino in Thackerville.
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