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Friday, September 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Landers: Legislation raises questions about Roosevelt access

Sportsmen and their access to portions of Lake Roosevelt don’t appear to have much stature in the latest Congressional legislation to compensate the Spokane Tribe for the impacts of Grand Coulee Dam.

The bills were introduced in June with no fanfare or public comment.

They call for making cash payments to the tribe.

More important to sportsmen, the bills also would give the tribe jurisdiction over the water in much of the Spokane Arm and a portion of the Columbia River bordering the reservation.

This area of Lake Roosevelt is one of the region’s premium public playgrounds for hunting, fishing and water recreation.

The bills would not give the tribe control of the south bank of that portion of Lake Roosevelt, eliminating one of the most controversial points in a proposal supported by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2005.

This year, S.B. 1388 is sponsored by Sens. Cantwell and Patty Murray.

H.B. 3097, the companion bill, is sponsored by Reps. Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks.

Note that McMorris Rodgers is not a co-sponsor this time.

“We’re in regular contact with the tribe and trying to figure out a solution to this issue,” said Destry Henderson, the congresswoman’s spokesman in Washington, D.C. “This is a work in progress, one of many possible avenues.”

The bills call for paying the tribe $23.9 million in 2010 plus $18.9 million in each of the four following years.

The scary part is in Section 9, which calls for the transfer of administrative jurisdiction and restoration of the tribe’s ownership “over all land acquired by the United States … that is located within the exterior boundaries of the Spokane Indian Reservation.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging his support for the tribe’s Grand Coulee Settlement legislation. She said payment is long overdue. Indeed, compensation for the Colville Tribe was settled in 1994. The Spokane Tribe has received only $4,700 for what it has provided to the Grand Coulee project since the 1930s.

But it’s notable that Gregoire did not mention the jurisdiction issue.

It’s as though it doesn’t matter.

None of the Congressional office staffers contacted could shed light on that point.

The Lincoln County Commissioners have endorsed the bills as they are written, apparently satisfied because the proposals do not attempt to change the ownership of the south shore of the Spokane Arm.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials could not be reached on Wednesday, but they have been intensely concerned with previous jurisdiction issues.

Court decisions handed down in 1994 and 2001 have given the WDFW reason to enforce hunting and fishing regulations in the waters and up to a certain land elevation where the reservation borders Lake Roosevelt.

The tribal boundary is under the lake at the original shore of the Spokane River before Grand Coulee was built.

If the tribe assumes jurisdiction, who will define where an angler is legal to fish or where a waterfowler is allowed to hunt or a water skier allowed cut turns?

Can the tribe require its own fishing or recreation licenses?

Can the tribe ban fishing by non-Indians?

Will tribal enforcement officers be out flexing their muscles on honest sportsmen?

When matters were tense 15 years ago, Joe Cassidy of Davenport made the sacrifice of getting arrested by tribal police and taking the U.S. Government to court to decide whether anglers need a state or tribal license in those waters.

The 1994 case has given the WDFW and sportsmen some clear legal backing for jurisdiction and access.

The new legislation could muddy those waters.

Contact Rich Landers by voice mail, 459-5508, or e-mail to

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