The Spokesman-Review

Opinion

Editorial: Commission must be able to speak up for Fairchild

The Spokane County Commission is wisely extricating itself from a deal that kept it mum about a major development within its jurisdiction. Why did it do such a thing in the first place? The usual: Money and politics.

As the issue of a second tribal casino on the West Plains began to heat up in 2010, two county commissioners – Bonnie Mager and Mark Richard – cut a deal with the city of Airway Heights to prevent the county from taking a position on the controversy in exchange for some of the proceeds if the Spokane Tribe were granted permission to build. The third commissioner, Todd Mielke, voted against the gagging.

Now the two proponents are gone, and the current commission wants to weigh in on whether the federal government should approve the large resort and casino complex near Fairchild Air Force Base. The Department of Interior is in the midst of a review and is collecting public input. If it approves the casino, then the issue moves to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Initially, the city of Airway Heights balked at rescinding the deal, but Commissioner Al French has threatened a lawsuit. His position was strengthened when the state attorney general’s office returned an opinion stating it was questionable whether a governmental body could impose a gag order on future ones. Airway Heights was apparently swayed and has agreed to rescind the deal.

Of course, this cancels the potential money the county could’ve gotten if the casino were built. The county was to get 20 percent of the money the tribe was planning to pay Airway Heights.

Then again, the deal to trade silver for silence was cut by commissioners who approve of the casino. And that’s the silly part of this controversy. While the commissioners were ordered not to comment, everyone knew where they stood because of their actions. But by removing themselves from the process, they didn’t give their constituents a voice in an important issue.

Now that the deal is ending, the County Commission is expected to quickly send notice to the feds in opposition to the proposed casino.

We also oppose the casino proposal, largely because of the possible effect it could have on the future of Fairchild Air Force Base. The base is locked in a fierce competition for the next generation of air refueling tankers, and every factor matters.

Airway Heights and the county have made smart decisions to ensure that future development doesn’t encroach on the base, which could limit its potential for future missions. But even the perception or possibility of encroachment could be critical, and the casino could be deemed a threat by the Pentagon or the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Nobody in this controversy doubts the importance of the base to the region’s economy, but that’s precisely why the County Commission should’ve never taken itself out of the discussion.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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