County to file suit over Spokane Tribe’s casino project

County to file suit over Spokane Tribe’s casino project

The Spokane County Commissioners have passed a resolution authorizing them to file a lawsuit to appeal the federal government’s approval of the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ casino project.

The Spokane Tribe Economic Project, or STEP, has been in the works since 2006. The 145-acre multi-use development plan includes a casino and a hotel. The Spokane Tribe says STEP could bring 5,000 jobs to the Airway Heights area.

In its ten years of evaluation, STEP has received the necessary approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior (in 2013) as well as approval just last year from Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

But Spokane County has expressed opposition to the project. The resolution passed by the commissioners on Wednesday lists effects the project could potentially have on the area that, they believe, would be detrimental.

Specifically, their concern lies with Fairchild Air Force Base, the region’s biggest employer. The Spokane Tribe’s project would be close to the base, with the casino resting under a busy FAFB flight path.

Another concern- encroachment. That’s a factor considered when the Department of Defense evaluates the efficiency of Air Force bases- and whether or not to close them, as consistent with the Base Realignment and Closure Act. If the new casino were to affect FAFB efficiency, and another BRAC round were to be conducted, encroachment might play a factor in that evaluation.

According to a list given to KXLY by Spokane County, the effort to appeal the decision is supported by a number of Spokane area elected officials, businesses and institutions. Among them- Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, The Kalispel Tribe of Indians (which operates Northern Quest Resort and Casino) and Greater Spokane Incorporated.

FAFB told KXLY today that they are unable to comment on the lawsuit. The Spokane Tribe, who had a casino-construction job fair scheduled for today, addressed it briefly.

“Personally I’m saddened by a potential lawsuit. I would hope the Spokane County would support development,” said Carol Evans.

Evans is the chairwoman of the Spokane Tribe’s governing body, the Spokane Tribal Business Council. She pointed to the decade-long process during which the project was evaluated and approved by multiple government officials. She says that the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs who approved the project in 2013 made the right choice.

“Like our sister tribe the Kalispel Tribe who was allowed to build a casino on our homelands, Kevin Washburn said he needs to approve us to build a casino on our homelands,” Evans said.

At today’s job fair, Evans and the Spokane Tribal Business Council revealed the name and logo of their new casino: The Spokane Tribe Casino.