Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Tribe In The Media: Washington Newspaper Doubtful On Cowlitz Casin

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Today's installment of The Tribe In The Media is an editorial in The Columbian, a Washington newspaper, that casts doubt on the Cowlitz casino project in Washington State. The Mohegan Tribe has a development and casino management agreement with the Cowlitz Tribe. The Mohegans have spent at least $20 million to $25 million thus far on the proposed Cowlitz project.

County’s expected vote tonight will add negative momentum to casino effort
The Columbian newspaper
April 7, 2009

Clark County commissioners are expected to take yet another step away from a proposed Cowlitz tribal casino Tuesday night when they vote on a rescission of a 2004 memorandum of understanding with the tribe. Two commissioners — Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke — have been critical of the MOU, and they likely will kill the agreement at Tuesday's meeting. (Steve Stuart on Friday declined to discuss the issue).

Actually, the decision could be seen as a postmortem, for a couple of reasons. The Cowlitz Tribal Council voted Saturday to rescind the MOU, and we don't see any way this can be handled as a unilateral "agreement" (we'll address a second unilateral matter later in this editorial). Second, it's hard to kill an MOU that essentially died two years ago when a state hearings board ruled the agreement was invalid.

And here's a third point to mention as last rites are pronounced on the ill-advised pact : All three commissioners who signed the 2004 MOU (Judie Stanton, Craig Pridemore and Betty Sue Morris, none of whom is still serving as a county commissioner) have expressed anti-casino sentiments.

Need a fourth reason to call the coroner? Last year, on April 7, Morris, Stuart and Boldt unanimously approved a resolution declaring "our opposition to the development of a major commercial gaming facility in the unincorporated area of Clark County." And as we editorialized at the time, "That sounds pretty much like a 'No!' to us …"

But make no mistake about the significance of the Tuesday vote. Even though the MOU became a nonfactor many months ago, this vote will add to the negative momentum that has grown to massive proportions. And that is a good thing for Clark County. A mega-casino would bring intense and widespread negative influences on the local quality of life. The number of local governments and business groups that have opposed the casino is approaching double digits, while there has been little to no meaningful support from any official group, only individuals.

Local residents should feel bolstered by the MOU's death, especially after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 24, which severely limited the federal government's authority to take land into trust for Indian tribes.

The Cowlitz will continue to point to a gaming ordinance as evidence that the county's best interests are protected. The tribe has enacted the ordinance that was issued for the tribe by the National Indian Gaming Commission in 2005. But this is the second unilateral agreement that we mentioned earlier. The gaming ordinance is not an agreement between the tribe and the county. It is only a list of commitments the tribe has made to the county, a list approved by the federal agency that has "Indian Gaming" in its name. It is uncertain if that ordinance will affect the tribe's pending application for reservation status.

It remains to be seen how high an obstacle has been erected against the casino by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Also unknown is whether Congress will enact legislation that could affect that ruling. A third unknown is how the Obama administration and new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar feel about tribal casinos.

But two facts are well known: For the time being, the casino's chances appear to be fading, fortunately. And that is cause for local residents to feel even more proud of Clark County.