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Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - Page updated at 01:00 A.M.
Tribe, city sign deal to pave way for Snoqualmie casino off I-90
By Sara Jean Green
Even as the tribe awaits a federal decision on its application to turn a 56-acre parcel off Interstate 90 into a reservation, tribal officials are laying the groundwork to build their $60 million, 147,000-square-foot Casino Snoqualmie on the site.
To that end, the tribe began negotiating with the city almost three years ago, and last week the Snoqualmie City Council unanimously agreed to extend sewer lines and provide police, fire and emergency services to the tribe's property.
"We've worked very diligently to build a good relationship based on trust," said Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher. "We understand the tribe's needs, desires and goals, and we've worked to find common ground we both can stand on."
Under the agreement, the city is to make $1.9 million worth of improvements to its sewer system, including extension of sewer lines from the city limits to the planned casino site.
The city will use its stellar bond rating to raise money for the upgrades, which the tribe plans to repay with casino profits.
The tribal council, which also unanimously approved the agreement, will be responsible for building sewer lines on the casino site to connect with the city's lines.
The Snoqualmie Tribe spent a year looking for land from Bellevue to Snoqualmie Pass before purchasing the parcel off I-90's Exit 27, said Snoqualmie tribal administrator Matt Mattson.
In February 2001, the tribe applied to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to have its parcel turned into trust land. It is still waiting for Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, who oversees the BIA, to issue a decision.
Tribal officials have worked hard "to anticipate impacts to the community before they happen," Mattson said. "As far as we can tell, there's no (community) opposition to the project, but it's still jammed up in the bureaucracy."
Fletcher said the tribe made promises it didn't have to make as a sovereign government. For instance, the tribe gave assurances that its casino won't be visible from I-90; there will be no neon lights or garish signs to destroy the area's natural beauty, he said. He thinks the casino expected to generate 700 jobs will benefit the entire Snoqualmie Valley.
Bob Anderson, director of the University of Washington's Native American Law Center, said the agreement between the Snoqualmie Tribe and the city is likely the most far-reaching contract between a tribe and a municipality in the nation. Anderson, the former BIA lead attorney under the Clinton administration, said most tribes make more-limited agreements with cities "on an ad hoc basis," usually related to traffic issues.
"It looks like a very good agreement," one that shows broad local support for Casino Snoqualmie, Anderson said.
Under the agreement, the tribe also will pay about $140,000 a year to cover the salary and other costs of one police officer, plus $50,000 for a new police cruiser. The two sides are still working out protocols for police response because there are some questions about jurisdiction on Indian land.
The city will provide fire and emergency medical services to the casino site, with the tribe paying $150,000 a year for two firefighters; the tribe also will pay two-fifths of the cost to lease a new ladder truck, a piece of equipment the city has long wanted.
The two governments also agreed to work together to provide shuttle service from a planned tribal retail store in downtown Snoqualmie to the future casino.
To counter concerns that the city and its residents would be on the hook to pay back money for improved services in the event the tribe reneges on the deal, tribal officials agreed to waive partial sovereign immunity so the city would have recourse in King County Superior Court.
"Waiving sovereign immunity is an act of sovereignty in itself," said Mattson. Without the partial waiver, "the citizens of Snoqualmie would be stuck with the bill, and that's not a good way to make friends."
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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