Inslee greenlights Spokane Tribe casino project
AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday he concurred with the Department of Interior’s decision to grant the Spokane Tribe of Indians the authority to build and operate a casino in Airway Heights.
Inslee announced the decision via a press release on his website on Wednesday to support the STEP project.
“This is not a simple situation with an easy, clear-cut answer,” said Gov. Inslee. “I wanted to be sure to fully understand all perspectives on this issue before making a decision. All sides have very compelling arguments in favor of and against this proposal.”
“After much consideration, I decided that allowing the Spokane Tribe to develop on its federally recognized land was both fair and appropriate under the federal legal requirements.”
Last June the Department of the Interior concluded the casino complex would not be detrimental to the community, over the concerns of local business leaders and lawmakers, who felt the close proximity of the location of the STEP project would be too close to Fairchild Air Force Base’s flight path.
“While I applaud the Spokane Tribe’s desire for economic development, I remain concerned that the proposed location, due to its proximity to Fairchild Air Force Base, presents a tremendous threat to Fairchild and it’s future,” Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said last June.
Greater Spokane Inc. also expressed misgivings about the project’s proximity to Fairchild’s flight path, possibly jeopardizing the air base’s long term viability. Fairchild is the largest employer in Spokane County, with 5,700 jobs and an annual economic impact on the region in excess of $1 billion.
One of the other opponents to a new casino in Airway Heights was the Kalispel Indian Tribe, which operates Northern Quest.
The City of Spokane, which was originally opposed to the 145-acre mixed use development near Highway 2 and Craig Road, sought to rescind its reservations for the STEP project back in 2014.
The Air Force has remained neutral on the process that led to Tuesday’s announcement. Fairchild, one of the service’s major tanker bases on the West Coast, is home to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing.
The Spokane County Board of Commissioners blasted Inslee’s decision to support the STEP project, with a media release posted less than five minutes before GSI held a media conference, where it continued to express its concern over the project, and the Spokane Tribe held its own media conference, applauding Inslee’s decision.
Inslee’s decision Tuesday is the second victory of the week for the Spokane Tribe, following on the heels of President Obama’s decision earlier this week to designate tribal lands on their reservation, as well as land holdings in Chewelah and Airway Heights, as a Promise Zone.
The designation, which the City of Spokane also sought but failed to secure, will help cut red tape in securing funding to help improve the quality of life for tribal members. The tribe plans to create jobs for its members, who suffer from a 30-percent unemployment rate, as well as build housing, technology centers, invest in renewable energy and update the tribe’s law and order code and implement a community policing strategy.