Monday, April 7, 2008

City And County Seek To Reverse Key Approvals For Cowlitz Casino

By Ken Davison

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe has hit a major hurdle in its quest to open a $510 million casino in Clark County, Washington.

Commissioners for the county in which the tribe is hoping to build a casino have signalled their intent to formally oppose the casino this Tuesday and another community, the city of Vancouver, is seeking to have another key federal approval for the proposed casino overturned in federal court.

A key 2004 agreement between the tribe and the county in which it is seeking to build a casino, Clark County, was struck down by a state board in December because the agreement was made without seeking input from the public. The tribe then submitted the meat of that agreement in the form of a gaming ordinance to the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which approved the ordinance on January 8.

The NIGC is now being sued by the city of Vancouver claiming that the NIGC should not have approved the gaming ordinance because the land in which the tribe wants to build the casino is not reservation land and, further, because there is no gaming compact between the tribe and the state of Washington.

The Cowlitz tribe is seeking to place 152 acres into trust as reservation land where it hopes to build the casino - which would be developed and managed by the Mohegan Tribe - but that application has not yet been approved. The land is now owned by a partnership between the Mohegan Tribe and Cowlitz tribal member David Barnett and is not considered "Indian" land as required under federal law.

The city of Vancover, in their filing last Friday in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma says the NIGC's approval should be overturned because it lacks jurisdiction under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The Cowlitz Tribe is seeking to establish its initial reservation since its federal recognition decision in 2002. Over a year has passed since a required environmental survey on that tract of land was submitted to the Department of Interior and nothing has been heard yet from that agency.

The tribe's 2004 agreement with Clark County, labelled a memorandum of understanding or MOU, requires the tribe to pay for certain law enforcement costs, to compensate local governments for lost property taxes and to comply with building and traffic stipulations.

Although the first of three public hearings on a new memorandum of understanding are scheduled to begin tomorrow, county commissioners stated their intention to vote on a resolution formally opposing the casino on Tuesday. Commissioners have said they would like the 152-acre tract of land to become a business park rather than a casino.

According to Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority financial statements, $18.8 million has been borrowed specifically for the Cowlitz casino project as of December 31, 2007. This amount is guaranteed by the Mohegan Tribe as well as being "collateralized by a lien on substantially all of the existing and future assets of Salishan-Mohegan."

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