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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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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.

The desire by the Spokane Tribe to build a casino/hotel/recreational complex east of Fairchild Air Force Base first came to my attention in the later part of 2010.  I was serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Logistics at that time.  Spokane community leaders, including Congresswoman Rogers, were planning to visit the Pentagon and wanted to meet with myself and my key staff about a number of issues relative to Fairchild AFB.    The proposed casino complex was only one of the topics to be discussed.

In preparation for the community visit, I asked my staff to bring me up to speed on the issues.   I was initially alarmed when they told me that the casino/hotel was proposed to be 12 or 14 stories high and would be near the flight tracks from Fairchild AFB.   I was concerned about noise and safety risks since the KC-135 tankers would be departing to the east and would sometimes fly directly over the proposed casino location.  The staff showed me relatively current flight profiles and while most departures flew to the northwest of the casino, not all avoided the proposed location.   My staff did emphasize that the proposed casino/hotel complex was completely outside the accident potential zones and clear zones that had been established by the official Air Force AICUZ (Air Installation Compatible Use Zone) analysis.   There were minor concerns about light coming from the reflective surfaces of the complex and how that may impact pilot visibility.

I asked what position the Wing Commander, Col Paul Guemmer, had taken.  I was told that Col. Guemmer had some concerns, but that the risks were low and presented an insignificant disruption to the Fairchild flying mission.  Following the staff’s briefing, I called General Ray Johns, Commander of Air Mobility Command, and asked Ray the same question.  General Johns held the same position as Commander Guemmer.

The conversation when the Spokane civil leaders visited me in the Pentagon a few weeks later, was along these same lines.

That Fall, I visited Fairchild AFB and spent the day in meetings and briefings with the Wing.  I asked Col. Guemmer on several occasions, if his evaluation of the Spokane Tribe’s casino complex had changed and he told me it had not.

At my request, the Wing leadership and I met with the Spokane civic leaders for dinner that evening, and I again reiterated the Air Force’s position on the casino/complex.

The story did not end here.   In the Spring of 2011 (as I recall), several members of the Spokane Tribe visited me in the Pentagon.  We discussed the casino complex and I expressed the same concerns I had about noise and safety risks.  The tribal leaders assured me that they were willing to enforce whatever mitigation measures would be necessary to minimize flight safety and glare impacts that the Air Force may have.   In reviewing the Environmental Impact Statement for the casino complex, each of these mitigation measures are again recited.   And I understand that the Spokane Tribal leaders remain committed to accepting these mitigation measures including their recent revised proposal to reduce the footprint of the complex and the height of the hotel to 4 to 6 stories.

I don’t know what has changed since I retired as the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force on March 1, 2013, but when I left the building the official Air Force position had not changed.


Most Sincerely,

Terry A. Yonkers

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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