A request to build a casino, resort and retail development on the West Plains should be denied as “clear encroachment” on the nearby Air Force base, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in a letter to the federal agency that would have to approve the proposal.
But the Spokane Tribe says studies show the development won’t impair operations at Fairchild Air Force Base now or in the future. It complies with the land-use rules McMorris Rodgers says will preserve the base’s mission, tribal Chairman Rudy Peone said.
In a May 1 letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, McMorris Rodgers raises the specter of Fairchild being studied for a possible closure in an upcoming round of base realignments that federal budget reductions could require.
“I believe that in order to not be vulnerable to closure in another (Base Realignment and Closure) round, Fairchild must be able to continue to modernize and prevent local development that could be viewed as an encroachment by the Department of Defense, the Air Force or an independent BRAC Commission,” she wrote in a letter to Stanley Speaks, the Northwest regional director of the BIA.
In the past, McMorris Rodgers has said protecting the base’s mission was her top priority, but she has stopped short of calling the proposed development encroachment or formally opposing it. Two months ago, when the BIA issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the tribe’s proposal, which listed the development of the casino, resort and retail space as the preferred alternative, McMorris Rodgers asked the agency to extend the comment period to give Spokane County more time to file its objections.
The agency agreed to accept comments for an extra 60 days. Last Wednesday, on the final day of that extended comment period, McMorris Rodgers weighed in against the project. A McMorris Rodgers spokeswoman will join Greater Spokane Incorporated this morning for a session in which they plan to counter the tribe’s commissioned report and reiterate concerns about the possible effects of the development on the base’s flight patterns and viability.
During the extended comment period, the tribe had a Washington, D.C., consulting firm, Madison Government Affairs Inc., finish a study on whether the development would pose a risk of base closure and whether it could pose a safety threat to planes in a training pattern near the base. Madison’s conclusion: It would not.
“The Air Force has never expressed concern about (the project) regarding so-called encroachment to the base, and the Madison report emphatically shows that (the project) will not negatively impact base operations,” Peone said. The only real encroachment issue is a mobile home park that “we should all be pulling together to address,” he said.
The county comprehensive plan has been amended to allow for significant development on the West Plains, and “it seems contradictory to support such growth while simultaneously characterizing the tribe’s project as encroachment,” he added.
The Air Force was a cooperating agency in preparing the impact statement and did not raise concerns about encroachment or the location of the development in the flight pattern, nor did it suggest an alternative for developing the land.
Now that the extended comment period is over, the U.S. Interior Department must issue a decision on the best option for the land the tribe wants to develop. If that option includes a casino, Gov. Jay Inslee would have to approve the gambling operation.