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Decision on new casino in Inslee’s lap

Opponents of a proposed Spokane Tribal project that includes a new casino on the West Plains began a full court press Tuesday to convince Gov. Jay Inslee to block the plan, claiming it could threaten the future of the nearby Air Force base.

But Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone said such allegations have been raised for years, and have been “put to bed” by a series of studies and reports. Fairchild Air Force Base officials had plenty of opportunities to raise concerns about the project since it was first proposed in 2006, and did not do so when they had a chance in the Environmental Impact Statement.

“You can’t hang your hat on encroachment. That’s fear-mongering,” Peone said.

Inslee must agree with the U.S. Interior Department’s approval, announced Monday after some two years of reviewing that impact statement, for the project to go ahead. Inslee spokesman David Postman said the office was developing a plan for talking to the interested parties but doesn’t yet have a schedule for making a decision.

“I think he’ll be very deliberate, but he’ll be fair,” Peone said.

The governor has expressed concerns about the loss of military units in Washington, and early this month formed what he calls a Subcabinet on Military Downsizing, primarily anticipating reductions at Joint Base Lewis McChord. That group has its first meeting Wednesday but Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said it is expected to be a broad overview and the possible effects of a new casino near Fairchild aren’t likely to come up.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said she plans to call Inslee and urge him to reject the project. The Republican congresswoman said she supports the tribe's efforts for economic development but opposes the location because, in her opinion “Fairchild comes first”.

“If we want to keep Fairchild, our responsibility is to look at potential encroachment issues,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Asked about the lack of public opposition from the Air Force to the project, McMorris Rodgers replied: “The Air Force is never going to say you can’t build a particular project.”

Peone said the congresswoman and other opponents should read the documents and reports that have been filed, including a recent study the Air Force did when deciding whether to send the first new air-refueling tankers to Fairchild. Ultimately it decided those planes should be based in Kansas, where they would be closer to the planes they would have to refuel and because the cost of refurbishing McConnell Air Force Base was about $30 million cheaper. That study said the casino and hotel only raised a potential for increased road traffic that could be mitigated.

A high-ranking Pentagon official also told Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn the Air Force would “work collaboratively with the Spokane Tribe as the project moves forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, were among a bipartisan group of legislators urging Inslee Tuesday to reject the plan, reiterating a concern in a letter they sent two years ago as the Bureau of Indian Affairs was completing its study of the project. Those legislators take a stronger stance against the project, arguing that allowing the tribe to build a casino so far off its reservation would “open the floodgates” for new tribal gaming facilities in the state.

But Parker said his main concern is the potential impact on Fairchild if Congress decides to authorize another round of base closures. “At the end of the day, what we want to avoid is putting Fairchild back on the list.”

Fairchild has been studied for closure in the past, as far back as the first Base Realignment and Closure Commission hearings in 1993. But in previous rounds of base closures, federal officials always concluded it should stay open based on its strategic value and the federal government’s investments to update infrastructure.

Congress isn’t likely to approve a base closure process in the near future, McMorris Rodgers said, but it could at some point and the Air Force has told Congress it has about 25 percent more bases than it currently needs.

Greater Spokane Inc., which serves as the area’s chamber of commerce and economic development agency, said it was also opposed to the location as “activity that might impair current and future missions on the base” and said the tribe should build its project elsewhere.

“Although alternative locations for this development have been presented to the Spokane Tribe, they have chosen not to pursue them,” the business group said. McMorris Rodgers also said the tribe has turned down other locations for its project.

A spokeswoman for GSI said those offers were made “earlier in the process.” Peone said he knew of no such offer in the last three years while he has been council chairman.

But any such alternative would mean starting the process of buying the land, putting it in trust for the tribe, and beginning the studies and reviews that have so far taken almost a decade for the West Plains site.

As part of its prepared statement, GSI released a map that first surfaced two years ago by some project opponents that show the routes of tankers training for landings and takeoffs at Fairchild, an exercise known as “touch and gos.” Those routes show a racetrack pattern that takes the planes over the area where the project would be built.

That map was prepared by a Fairchild official and used two years ago in public presentations that suggested the project increased the potential for accidents. But neither Fairchild nor Air Mobility Command officials would comment about the map at the time and it was not part of the base’s response to EIS. Instead, it was submitted as part of GSI’s opposition.

A study commissioned by the tribe concluded the bulk of Fairchild training flights would not be over the project and that the resort and casino were not a threat to the base. Peone said he believes the map has been discredited but is being used because it’s visually striking.

“If you repeat something long enough and loud enough, people will believe it,” he said.

Spokane Tribe gets casino okay

Under federal law, those are the criteria for approving a gaming project on tribal land. The project would create jobs and increase tribal public service programs on the Spokane Reservation, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn wrote in a four-page letter explaining the decision.

“After all our efforts, it’s incredibly gratifying to receive the Interior Department’s approval,” Spokane Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone said in a press release. “We want to create jobs and economic opportunity for our tribe and the entire community." Read more. Jim Camden, SR


Smoking hazardous to wanted man’s health, presumed innocence

A man with an outstanding warrant revealed a needle in his waistband while reaching for one last smoke before going to jail Sunday night at Northern Quest Casino, according to court records.

An officer initially approached Preston Livingston, 28, because he was slumped over in the driver's seat of a pickup truck at the Airway Heights casino, according to court records. Livingston told the officer, who said it appeared as though Livingston were drunk, that he was waiting for a friend who was inside, according to court records.

A check of Livingston's records revealed a warrant for his arrest. When the officer told Livingston he would be taken into custody, Livingston asked for one last cigarette before going to jail. While reaching for the smoke, the officer noticed the needle in Livingston's waistband.

After handcuffing Livingston, the officer again checked the truck. Near the console, he spied another needle, a tourniquet, a scale and a black pouch, according to court records. When asked about the items, Livingston told the officer his friend was using them to get high and that he used methamphetamine, but hadn't in the past 10 hours.

Livingston was released from jail without bail, according to jail records. No charges have yet been filed against him for the drug paraphernalia, according to court records.

Read full statement from Air Force official on casino and Fairchild

Last night's revelation that an assistant secretary of the Air Force believed the proposed casino from the Spokane Tribe of Indians would create "insignificant disruption" to Fairchild puts a major damper on the efforts of the project's opponents to label the casino a threat to Fairchild.

Below is the full email from former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers that Council President Ben Stuckart read at last night's meeting:


Mr. Stuckart,

In the essence of timeliness, I’ve decided to respond to your gracious request by email.  I’m disappointed I will be unable to make these remarks, in person, during your Council meeting 24 Feb. 2014.

McMorris Rodgers, Spokane Tribe casino statements

As reported in this morning's paper, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers formally came out against a proposed West Plains casino as "encroachment" on Fairchild Air Force Base and the Spokane Tribe, which is planning the development, reiterated that it is no such thing.

Want to read more about it?

McMorris Rodgers' letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs is below.

The statement of Spokane Tribal Chairman Rudy Peone can be found inside the blog.


Tribe: McMorris Rodgers ‘misinformed’ about casino process

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.”

In a letter to a top Interior Department official, Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone said 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 . . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

McMorris Rodgers asks more time on casino study

The federal government should delay its decision on a proposed tribal casino on the West Plains an extra 45 days to allow Spokane County to voice its objections, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Thursday.

In a dw-ah letter to a high-ranking Interior Department official, McMorris Rodgers asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to extend the comment period for the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino and retail development on land just outside Airway Heights. The congresswoman said Spokane County commissioners, who until recently were barred by a legal agreement from saying anything about the proposal, should be given an adequate opportunity to comment.

The current county commissioners oppose the project.

The bureau, in an impact statement released Feb. 1, said a plan to build a casino, hotel and shopping mall is the “preferred alternative” of four options it considered for the 145 acres purchased by the tribe away from its Eastern Washington reservation.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Lowry, Munro weigh in on Spokane Tribe casino

Former Gov. Mike Lowry and former Secretary of State Ralph Munro are against the Spokane Tribe's plan to build a casino near Airway Heights.

So much so that they wrote a guest column published today in the Seattle Times. It's "not good for tribes, our communities or for our state," they said.

Want to read this bipartisan argument of former state officials against the casino proposal? It can be found here.

Condon condemns casino

Spokane Mayor David Condon has added his name to the list of local leaders opposed to the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ proposal for a casino on the West Plains.

Condon joins Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown among those who have formally opposed the casino.

The Spokane City Council will debate tonight if it also will condemn the proposal.

Condon said he’s concerned that its proximity to Fairchild Air Force Base could hurt the future of the base and force the military officials to move training operations away from Fairchild because of noise and other issues.

“If you can do the same training out your back door, it’s much better,” Condon said.

Condon wrote a letter last month to the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressing his opposition. In an interview last week, he said he has asked city staff members to examine the plan to determine if the city should officially oppose the casino, as well.

The mayor said he’s concerned that a second West Plains casino could divert business from within city limits, which would result in lost tax revenue.

“In an environment where the city already is required to trim its budget an expenditures on essential functions, a futher hit would have significant negative impacts on the city,” Condon said.


Council will wait a week to consider casino

The Spokane City Council will wait until next week to consider opposing a Spokane Tribe of Indians casino project proposed for the West Plains.

Councilman Mike Fagan is sponsoring a resolution opposing the casino. He requested last week that the council suspend normal public notice requirements to allow a vote on Monday instead of giving the public more than a week’s notice before a vote. He said at the meeting Monday, however, that he had changed his mind after hearing from constituents who opposed to moving forward without following the usual public notice procedure. Council President Ben Stuckart said the wasn’t enough support on the council to suspend the rules. At least five of seven members would have had to agree.

The council also opted not to vote on a $4.1 million contract to build a sewage overflow tank that city administrators had requested the council also suspend public notice requirements to approve on Monday.

Both issues will be considered at the council’s March 26 meeting, which will be held at the East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone St.

Fagan said he has the support from three other council members and expects his resolution to be approved 4-3.

Council considers rushing votes

The Spokane City Council on Monday will consider rushing its normal voting procedure to condemn the proposed Spokane Tribe of Indians casino on the West Plains.

Councilman Mike Fagan is sponsoring the resolution to put the city on record as opposing the casino and has asked that the council to suspend its rules so it can vote on the matter on Monday instead of giving the public more than a week’s notice before a vote.

“I feel that there’s a sense of urgency,” Fagan said.

The public usually gets well over a week’s notice about any issue on which the City Council conducts a vote. Notice for the resolution, however, wasn’t released until Thursday when Monday’s agenda was distributed.

Fagan said that the council’s schedule wouldn’t allow a vote on the matter until April 9 unless a vote is taken on Monday because the March 26 meeting is focused on neighborhoods and the April 2 meeting has been cancelled.

In order to suspend the rules, five of the seven council members would have to approve voting on the matter on Monday.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, who supports the tribe’s casino project, said there’s no reason to rush the resolution.

“If it’s an important enough issue, you should give the public time to know about it, be knowledgeable and prepare testimony,” he said.