Spokane County officials want to address casino plan

SPOKANE — Two Spokane County commissioners are asking the Bureau of Indian Affairs to overturn a contract that blocks the county from taking sides on an American Indian tribe’s proposed casino in the Spokane suburb of Airway Heights.

County Commissioners Al French and Todd Mielke voted last week to send the request to BIA Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, The Spokesman-Review reported.

The resolution asks the BIA to decide if a 2010 contract signed by the county with the Spokane Tribe and the city of Airway Heights is invalid.

French wasn’t on the commission when that deal was signed. Mielke voted against the contract, which would provide the county with a cut of the revenue from the not-yet-built casino. In return, the county agreed to remain neutral on the project.

The proposed casino would be constructed in Airway Heights, not far from the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

Many regional and state officials and area business groups have filed comments for or against the tribe’s application.

“The record for this application is not complete,” French said. “There are no comments from the county, the largest local jurisdiction affected by the (tribe’s) proposal.”

The proposal awaits a yes or no vote from the BIA. The next step is the release of the final draft environmental impact statement, which addresses the proposal’s impact on land and nearby communities. The tribe’s application also must be approved by Washington’s governor.

The 2010 deal calling for the county’s neutrality was approved by former Commissioner Bonnie Mager and current Commissioner Mark Richard.

French has been critical of Mager for leading that effort and then working on behalf of the casino proposal after she left office.

Richard has said his 2010 support of the deal with the tribe was based on recognizing the Spokanes’ need for economic development. Richard did not attend the recent session when Mielke and French approved sending the BIA letter.

“If I had been there, I would have voted against it,” Richard said.

A BIA spokeswoman said the agency is “reviewing the application and all materials submitted by interested parties.”

The Spokane Tribe has said the proposed casino and convention center would generate thousands of jobs and boost local and tribal economies. It’s needed to help support the tribe’s social programs, tribal leaders have said.

Opponents have said the area has a casino already. Some contend the proposed casino is directly below Fairchild Air Force Base training flights, potentially affecting the base’s ability to train air crews.

Officials from the city of Airway Heights and Stevens County have backed the Spokanes’ proposal, saying it’s a key part of the tribe’s economic future.

The Kalispel Tribe opposes the Spokane Tribe proposal.

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