Foes stand up to new casino

FRIDAY, OCT. 7, 2011

Agency reviewing Spokane Tribe proposal

Eighteen government and business leaders have taken a stand against the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino in Airway Heights, according to letters sent to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The letters were released Thursday by a coalition of business and community members who oppose the casino, as the bureau considers the casino plan.

Irv Zakheim, who helped start the group Citizens Against Casino Expansion, said he asked the bureau about two months ago for copies of letters for and against the proposed casino. Zakheim is founder and owner of Zak Designs, based in Airway Heights.

“I was surprised to find not one letter of support” for the tribe’s proposal, Zakheim said. He and others in the coalition released the 12 letters that included signatures from 18 state and local officials.

More letters in support of or opposition to the casino may have been submitted since he made the request, Zakheim said.

Efforts to reach the Spokane Tribe for comment Thursday were not successful.

Those opposing the casino include State Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown, Secretary of State Sam Reed, State Auditor Brian Sonntag, all three Pend Oreille County commissioners, Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove and State Sen. Michael Baumgartner. Also signing a letter against the casino is former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry.

Issues cited in the letters were the negative impacts on the West Plains communities, encroachment that could stop expansion of Fairchild Air Force Base, and concerns that the new casino would open the door to future gaming expansion.

The bureau has been reviewing the Spokane Tribe’s request to operate a casino on 145 acres it acquired on the edge of Airway Heights. The tribe said the facility is needed to provide more jobs and will increase economic activity for both the tribe and the region.

The Kalispel Tribe in 2000 built the Northern Quest casino in Airway Heights on land it bought and designated as tribal property. The tribe’s ancestral reservation is near Usk, about 50 miles north of Airway Heights.

Zakheim said he wished he had also taken a public stance against the Kalispel casino when it was under review.

“I have a good relationship with the Kalispels now,” Zakheim said. “There’s nothing I can do now (about their Airway Heights casino). But I’m opposing this (casino proposal) because I don’t want to keep quiet again.”

If the bureau approved the Spokane Tribe casino, it would mark a rare instance of allowing a gambling facility on non-reservation land. The bureau has not said when it will release an environmental impact statement on the proposal. That would trigger a 45-day period for additional comment.

Patrick Rushing, mayor of Airway Heights, said he was “extremely disappointed” at the negative positions taken by area leaders. Rushing and Airway Heights’ city council have taken favorable positions toward the Spokane Tribe project.

“That members of our government would oppose a jobs creation package, that doesn’t cost them a penny, tells me what direction our country is going,” Rushing said.

Rushing added the bureau should have received a letter of support sent by Airway Heights’ city council earlier this year.

Even if the bureauapproves the casino, the tribe would still need to negotiate a compact with the governor’s office before being allowed to operate.

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