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Editorial: Spokanes’ casino hopes nearer, but need dashing

The Spokane Tribe is but two signatures away from approval of its decadelong effort to build a casino in Airway Heights. May those pens run dry.

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs said it would support the tribe’s plan for a casino, hotel, spa and associated retail outlets despite vociferous objections from local government and business officials worried primarily about the project’s impact on Fairchild Air Force Base.

Alternative proposals included a scaled-down casino, or none at all, and one version without the 300-room hotel. Alternative 4 – no action/no development, would be our preferred option.

The preliminary BIA decision could not have come at a worse time for Fairchild. The base is among four finalists for receiving the first new-generation air-refueling tankers based on the Boeing 767. And just over the horizon is another likely Pentagon base-closure review in 2015.

Anything that compromises the base’s competitiveness is most unwelcome.

More casino jobs are meaningless if they endanger Fairchild, the area’s largest employer and a resource for thousands more area veterans. At the least, the tribe should consider a hold on plans until the base’s future is secure.

In the Environmental Impact Statement prepared by BIA, the tribe says it has modified its plans to minimize the effects lighting, building height and other features would have on passing aircraft, and is working with Fairchild officials to assure the casino development will not become a nuisance, or worse. Follow-through will be everything.

The nearby Northern Quest Casino and Resort might also be at risk. The EIS estimates an initial hit to Northern Quest business of 33 percent, but a rebound as the gaming market grows and some customers who tried the Spokane casino return. The Kalispel Tribe, owners of Northern Quest, projects a more severe loss of business, possibly jeopardizing its ability to repay debt.

That’s the business risk the Kalispels took, as did the Coeur d’Alene Tribe with its resort at Worley, as will the Spokanes and its Las Vegas partner should their project go forward. We question how an isolated, slow-growing market like Spokane can sustain three resorts.

The BIA decision starts the clock on a final 30-day comment period that concludes with the compiling of Record of Decision that goes to the secretary of interior for his or her signature. With Secretary Ken Salazar stepping down, the decision could be made by his successor, just possibly newly retired Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

This late in the game, politics, not economics or environment, will likely deal the final card.

New Gov. Jay Inslee must give his permission. He was noncommittal during the fall campaign when asked what he would do. This may be the biggest decision he makes this year affecting Spokane’s future.Our call: Leave your pen alone, governor.

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