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Sat., Sept. 28, 2013

Editorial: County gets one right for Fairchild, and quickly

Spokane County Commission management of West Plains affairs has often been characterized by hasty decision-making that created sometimes costly headaches, led to awkward retractions and fostered a perception this was a gang that could not shoot straight.

The endless woes at Spokane Raceway Park, purchased in 2008, are Exhibit A, but fumbled attempts to get zoning around Spokane International Airport and Fairchild Air Force Base just right have also been problematic. They traded silence on a proposed Spokane Tribe casino for a cut of the proceeds, a shameful deal since undone.

The fast 2011 response to a requirement that permissible building heights be increased to allow construction of the Caterpillar distribution center was one of the commissioners’ few unblemished accomplishments in the area.

So a Sept. 26 letter of thanks from Fairchild commander Col. Brian Newberry for their handling of base concerns regarding potential sniper shootings might just be suitable for framing in the Spokane County Courthouse.

Newberry had requested a rollback of light-industrial zoning that extended to the base perimeter. Snipers atop industrial buildings would have a line-of-fire that exposed airmen and civilian personnel to attack.

Wednesday, the commissioners created a buffer by rezoning some of the land agricultural, and did so within 24 hours of receiving a Newberry letter pointing out the vulnerability.

“The speedy response just amazed me and we at Team Fairchild are grateful,” he wrote Thursday. Not a bad turnaround in itself.

The change is temporary until public hearings can he held.

Newberry may be satisfied, but not Gov. Jay Inslee, who had inserted himself into the West Plains debate by challenging county urban-growth boundaries. The county has aggressively enlarged the area open to new development despite concerns from environmentalists and jurisdictions reluctant to extend services to outlying areas.

Inslee is working himself into a potential corner. His intervention, and his support of a $2.7 million grant to purchase apartments near a Fairchild “crash zone,” seemingly commit him to steadfast protection of the base as the military heads toward a likely round of base closures.

But strong support for Democrats by Washington’s Native Americans could be threatened should he not sign off on the Spokanes’ casino, which opponents allege will compromise Fairchild’s future. Their application for a casino is pending at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Newberry’s letter thanks the county for mitigating an encroachment problem that will weigh into deliberations about which bases will survive as the military faces an era of leaner spending.

The county needs all the affirmation it can get, with voters to consider a levy that will allow the purchase of mobile home parks also in the crash zone. Although we are withholding judgment on the levy, we too appreciate the county’s attention to the long-term partnership between the base and local government officials.

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