Special: STEP project sensitive to impact, vetted by BIA
As chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, I welcome the opportunity to provide some factual information about our project on the West Plains. The Spokane Tribe Economic Project, STEP, is an exciting multiuse development on our ancestral tribal trust land that will provide a major boost to the region by creating over 5,000 jobs, with an investment of $400 million of private-sector financing.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has undertaken an independent, thorough study of the environmental, social and economic effects STEP will have on the region through an Environmental Impact Study that was released to the public Feb. 1. Our application process continues, and we expect a decision from the U.S. Department of Interior later this year.
From the very beginning, we have joined our neighboring communities to be sensitive to any potential effects of STEP on everyone, and especially Fairchild Air Force Base operations. We have met with base command and officials at the Pentagon. We modified the height of our proposed hotel tower after the Federal Aviation Administration analysis placed the maximum height at 145 feet. We continue to meet and respond to base officials and study Fairchild independently. It is extremely apparent that with the recent selection by the U.S. Air Force of Fairchild to the short list of bases to receive the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker, with full knowledge that the STEP project is nearing reality, that encroachment by the STEP project is not an issue. Fairchild remains neutral while mitigating measures are being addressed in the EIS.
In 2010, the Spokane County commissioners openly negotiated agreements with the tribe and the city of Airway Heights. The agreements provided services to STEP and payments to the city and county in exchange for those services, and impacts from the project. Recently, the county has been in the news as newly elected commissioners have decided to negate the revenue portion of the agreements in exchange for the ability to speak out against STEP.
All of the reasons given by the commissioners for their opposition have been examined in great detail through the EIS process, which was released just days after the commissioners made their announcement. The fact is that Spokane County has been a cooperating agency under the EIS process, and they have made multiple comments to the BIA throughout the process. The county has now potentially forfeited millions of dollars in revenue in order for a few individuals to oppose STEP. It is important to point out that the only part of the STEP project now or in the future that requires federal or state approval is the gaming piece.
If you have questions about STEP, or just want to know more about the project, we urge you to view the independent environmental impact statement on line at www.westplainseis.com, or on file at the Airway Heights City Library.
The Spokane Tribe of Indians has called this region home long before Spokane County was formed, and long before Fairchild Air Force Base was located here. For centuries we have watched over this land. We will always continue to do so.
Rudy Peone is chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.