U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers seems “misinformed” in her recent request to delay a government recommendation on the proposed Spokane tribal casino on the West Plains, the tribal chairman told a federal agency this week.
But the tribe won’t object to the requested 45-day delay, if the department doesn’t allow future attempts to delay the process “for reasons beyond meaningful justification,” Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone said in a letter to a top Interior Department official.
The reasons McMorris Rodgers listed in last week’s request for a delay don’t match the facts of the long process of studying the project, Peone contended.
The congresswoman asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to delay the next step, known as a record of decision, for an extra 45 days because Spokane County “has not been fairly represented throughout this process.” It would be “imprudent” for the department to issue a decision without hearing from and evaluating information from the county, she wrote.
But the county is a cooperating agency in the process and had many opportunities to comment on the impact statement, Peone wrote in a letter to Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. The impact statement has letters from different county officials, he noted.
Although the county did sign an agreement with the city of Airway Heights to remain neutral, that was only on supporting or opposing gambling activities, he added. But if the county commissioners felt constrained, they only needed to ask the city to cancel the agreement; they did that recently, and the city agreed.
“There was nothing to prohibit the county from making this request (to get out of the agreement) months or even years ago,” Peone said.
In a final environmental impact statement released Jan. 31, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said the best option for land owned by the tribe along U.S. Highway 2 is a casino, resort and retail development project.
Without the requested delay, a decision by the Interior Department would be due as early as the end of this week. Spokane County and the city of Cheney have asked for a delay, and Greater Spokane Incorporated, the regional chamber of commerce that opposes the project, is supporting that request.
The Spokane Tribe asked the Interior Department in 2006 for a secretarial determination on the project, which is one of the steps needed to build it on land the tribe purchased off their reservation. The formal environmental review process began in 2009, and several extensions have already been granted, Peone wrote.
“We believe it is time for deliberation and decision,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, the tribe will not oppose one last, brief extension to allow for your consideration of additional comments.”
County commissioners and GSI have said they fear building the resort and casino would be considered encroachment on nearby Fairchild Air Force Base, jeopardizing the facility’s chance of getting next-generation air-refueling tankers and possibly making it a target if Congress orders a new round of base closures.
But Fairchild is also a cooperating agency in the preparation of the impact statement, and neither the base nor other offices up the Air Force chain of command raise those concerns in the statement, which says certain problems can be mitigated and the project isn’t considered an encroachment that would make the base vulnerable to closure.