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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Tribe posts casino impact statement

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ environmental statement about a proposed gaming facility in Airway Heights lays out efforts detailed efforts by the Spokane Tribe to reduce possible land-use conflicts, particularly with Fairchild Air Force Base.

It also includes a long argument why the proposed casino would not cause serious harm to the casino already in Airway Heights.

After months of review of comments submitted for and against the proposal, the impact statement was posted online Thursday at the tribe’s West Plains development website.

The Spokanes are seeking federal approval to build a casino and resort on 145 acres the tribe owns inside Airway Heights. It would be less than two miles from Fairchild Air Force Base. Critics said the proposed site lies under flight paths and might endanger the base’s future, potentially crippling the county’s largest single employer.

The tribe contends the casino is needed to boost its economy and add jobs for members and the community. It also says Fairchild officials have not stated that the casino poses a direct threat to its mission.

Now that the impact statement is published, the Bureau of Indian Affairs allows for one more round of community response. The Department of Interior decides if the proposal moves forward. The last step for the tribe would be gaining the approval of Gov. Jay Inslee.

The draft environmental statement was released last spring. It’s taken more than six months for the final statement to be compiled, due to the large volume of comments made by proponents and critics.

Even before Thursday’s publication, the Spokane Tribe had made changes to address land-use concerns. It lowered the height of the casino building and made changes to reduce noise impacts.

The impact statement now adds a general declaration that the tribe plans to form an agreement with the Air Force to deal with potential compatibility issues. It gives no date for when that agreement will be signed.

It goes further and says that suggestions that the tribe locate a casino farther from the base are unneeded: “Because all potential conflicts with (Fairchild) can be reduced to less than significant in accordance with regional planning documents and Department of Defense recommendations, consideration of an off-site alternative to avoid land-use conflicts is not warranted.” Spokane Tribal Council members could not be reached for additional comment.

The impact statement also includes a detailed counterattack by the Spokanes’ in reply to a document submitted to the BIA by the Kalispel Tribe, which operates the nearby Northern Quest Casino and Resort. The report submitted by the Kalispels asserts a new casino in the same area would cause operating losses that could force them to default on a bank loan taken out to build the resort and other tribal facilities.

That report was prepared by Nathan Associates.

The Spokanes’ 56-page reply in the impact statement argues that there would be diminished revenue for the Kalispels if the new casino opens in 2015. But the losses won’t be as large as the Kalispel study suggest. The Spokanes go further and say that both tribes will eventually see rising revenue by 2020.

The Kalispel Tribe, through an email from spokeswoman April Pierre, explained why it hired Nathan Associates to produce the cost-impact study.

“The draft EIS contained almost no substantive analysis on the potential negative impacts their proposal could have on our tribe or the broader community. That analysis concluded that if the Spokane Tribe is allowed to move forward with their proposal, it would devastate our tribe’s ability to provide services, such as healthcare and education, to our members.”

The Spokanes responded by attacking the Nathan study, saying it miscalculated the total casino market for this area, overestimated the revenue the new casino would get and then didn’t assess the future growth for both tribes.

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