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Friday, July 10, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Guest opinion: Preventing casino development crucial to Fairchild’s future

Bill Savitz

Recently, the Spokane County commissioners again urged the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to reject the Spokane Tribe’s proposal to build a casino resort complex on off-reservation land near Fairchild Air Force Base. 

Building on the already clear record of the negative impact the tribe’s development would have on Fairchild, the commissioners revealed further analysis that identifies even greater risk to the base and the surrounding community, including the fact that the final environmental impact statement published by the BIA for the casino used an outdated methodology to define the base’s crash zone. 

If the BIA had followed the correct procedure, the EIS would have clearly shown that the Spokane Tribe’s project site lies within the crash zone for flight patterns used by pilots during their Visual Flight Rules training missions. BIA’s failure to ensure the use of the latest and best available data regarding impacts to Fairchild puts the base at risk.

Our community should be grateful for the leadership the commissioners demonstrate and, in light of the circumstances, they are completely justified in the amount of time and resources they have committed to this effort. 

The reality is Fairchild’s future in our community is not a guarantee.  This base is in tough competition in an increasingly challenging federal budget environment. While some proponents of the Spokane development have publicly dismissed this threat, even suggesting that the loss of the base is inevitable or desirable, we know the risk is real.

Fairchild’s presence is responsible for thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic benefit in our community. Without a doubt, the Spokane region’s future is brighter with Fairchild in it.

Forward Fairchild has repeatedly spoken out about the importance of proper land use surrounding the base. Our position on the type of high-density development proposed by the Spokane Tribe is based on more than a decade of experience promoting and protecting Fairchild. In the hundreds of meetings we’ve had with people at all levels of the U.S. Air Force, we have consistently heard the same message:  Protect our base by preventing and removing encroachment.  As we examined this issue, we have attempted to remain relentlessly focused on this fact. While others have opinions about the level of risk posed by the Spokane Tribe’s proposed development, the record reflects that those risks are real.

The Air Force itself has identified and presented its concerns regarding the Spokane Tribe’s proposed development.  Those concerns, prepared by the director of Fairchild Air Force Base’s Encroachment Management Team, include aircraft flights over the site that are likely to generate noise complaints; light pollution; the proximity of the site to base air traffic patterns; and the large concentration of people in the proposed development’s building and the potential for an “aircraft crash/mishap.”  These concerns should not be ignored as the federal government concludes its process on whether to approve the Spokane Tribe’s request.

Protecting the base through proper land-use regulations is the job of the local community, not the Air Force. Time and again, Fairchild’s base commanders have told us to follow the guidance contained in the Joint Land Use Study, a report supported and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Air Force.  Spokane County has adopted rules informed by that report to guide its land-use decisions. Factually, if any other developer were proposing to build an equivalent project on this site, they would not be allowed to do so under city of Spokane and county ordinances.

Thankfully, other area leaders, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, have also spoken out forcefully in opposition to the Spokane Tribe’s project because of the negative impacts to Fairchild.  Frankly, we need more elected officials to join in standing up and speaking out on behalf of Fairchild. 

Specifically, we need our state’s U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, to join our cause in protecting the base by rejecting the Spokane Tribe’s proposal.  While they are great friends and supporters of the base in many other ways, their voices are sorely missed on this issue.  Given the stakes, now is the time for all supporters of the base to weigh in.

Bill Savitz chairs the Greater Spokane Incorporated Forward Fairchild committee.

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