Ferry County commissioners voted Monday to rescind an intergovernmental agreement designed to keep land-use peace between the county and the Colville Confederated Tribes.
County Commissioner Dennis Snook said the “final straw” for the controversial agreement was the tribal government’s unilateral declaration Feb. 6 of a development moratorium on all lakeshore property within the Colville Indian Reservation.
Snook said tribal officials said nothing about the possibility of a moratorium on Jan. 24 when he and county Planning Director Lynnette Frits met with them.
The agreement, signed in late 1992, calls for the eight participating governments to consult one another on land-use decisions in areas where more than one claims jurisdiction. It was designed to head off lawsuits over which government may regulate land owned by non-Indians within the reservation.
Okanogan County joined Ferry County on Monday in a letter protesting the Feb. 6 development moratorium, but stopped short of pulling out of the agreement. Participants include the two counties, the tribal government and five cities.
The southern halves of Ferry and Okanogan counties are within the Colville Reservation, and both are affected by the tribal ban on lakeshore development.
“Such a moratorium may be needed, but it should be imposed only after careful review by our respective planning departments and then only if supported by scientific evidence,” commissioners in both counties said in their letter to the tribal council.
No tribal spokesman was immediately available for comment Monday afternoon, but commissioners hadn’t yet announced their action. Commissioners were preparing a letter, included a five-page list of tribal actions they believe violated the cooperative agreement.
Commission Chairman Jim Hall said the commissioners deliberately gave no advance notice because they wanted no help from strident critics of the agreement.
“We kept it quiet because we didn’t want people who are against the agreement in here feeling they were part of the decision,” Hall said. “They weren’t part of it.”
He said commissioners “do not bend to that kind of pressure,” but the agreement wasn’t working and something needed to be done to get the tribal government’s attention.
Because of the lack of public input, “we have no idea how this is going to fly,” said Commissioner Gary Kohler, who abstained from Monday’s 2-0 vote.
Kohler declined to elaborate on the reasons for his abstention. He represents the district that includes the reservation, and his brother, Dale Kohler, is a tribal council member.
Kohler expressed optimism that the agreement may be “put back together” before the commissioners’ decision takes effect in 60 days. He noted that a regular meeting of the participating governments is scheduled March 6.
Hall said he “has never liked or trusted” the agreement, adopted before he and Snook took office. But both men left the door open for negotiations.
“I feel that it’s important that we have a working relationship with the tribe,” Hall said. “We don’t want any animosity with them, but we want meaningful discussion, not rhetoric.”
Some non-Indian land owners in southern Ferry County, notably Dan Hoover and Ervin Palmer, have complained bitterly that the ethnic-based tribal government should have no control over their property.
A federal judge told Hoover he needed to make his argument in tribal court. Palmer expressed his displeasure with the intergovernmental agreement by filing liens against county commissioners’ property, but a Superior Court judge declared the liens invalid.
Both the tribal and county governments claim jurisdiction over Hoover, Palmer and others in their situation. Federal law and court decisions are unclear.
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