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Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Stillaguamish Tribe puts land in trust as buffer to casino
By Emily Heffter
ARLINGTON The Stillaguamish Tribe is converting almost 10 acres adjacent to its casino site into tribal trust land.
If the federal government agrees, the tribe could develop the land, which is in a rural area north of Arlington, into a parking lot, retail shops or something else to go along with the 22,000-square-foot casino the tribe plans to start building next month.
Stillaguamish Executive Director Eddie Goodridge Jr. said the tribe plans to use the 10 acres as a buffer.
Having 10 acres of forested property between the casino and its neighbors could help quell residents' complaints about noise and lights next fall, when the tribe's casino is expected to open, Goodridge said.
Snohomish County has written to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to oppose converting the land into trust, which is property that is owned by the tribe but maintained by the federal government. Trust land is exempt from local land-use regulations.
County Executive Aaron Reardon opposes the Stillaguamish plan.
"We're certainly opposed to the site because it's rural, and I think if we had our druthers, we'd just as soon see nonproliferation of gambling," said his spokesman, Mark Funk.
The Stillaguamish Tribe is making its second attempt to build a casino on 20 rural acres north of Arlington. The tribe has the same opponents it had last year the county government and area residents but since securing a $19 million loan last week, the tribe's plan appears to be unfolding without a hitch.
Goodridge said he expects construction to start in two to three weeks.
The tribe's new financier, Minneapolis-based Marshall Bank, like other federally regulated banks and lending institutions, is exempt from state background checks. Marshall Bank has funded other casinos in the state without problems, said Neil Nunamaker, the agent in charge of licensing investors at the state Gambling Commission.
"It's a large financial company, and you come to them to find people who will lend you money," Nunamaker said.
Even if Marshall Bank parcels out the loan to several other banks, they don't have to submit to background checks as long as the source of the money is federally regulated, Nunamaker said. That means the Stillaguamish could start building right away.
The tribe's previous lender, Arlington Gaming of Michigan, backed out last spring after declining to submit to state-imposed criminal background checks, which were required before the Washington Gambling Commission would license Arlington Gaming to lend money.
Before backing out, Arlington Gaming had lent the tribe about $8 million to buy out 28 homeowners who lived in housing on the property and to prepare the land for construction.
The tribe still has to repay Arlington Gaming; Goodridge said he expects to make enough in the casino's first year of operation to pay off the debt with profit to spare.
A group of tribal members who organized to fight the casino doesn't plan to try to stop it, tribal member Patrice Martin said.
A previous attempt to oust Goodridge from tribal government was thwarted when the tribe started charging a $250 filing fee for petitions, Martin said. She hasn't been able to raise the money.
Goodridge said petitions are expensive for the tribe to process, and he believes a lack of support, not a fee, stopped the effort to get rid of him.
Goodridge considers the casino the catalyst to propel the tribe toward self-sufficiency. The small tribe depends heavily on government grants to survive.
A community group that formed in an attempt to stop the casino has essentially given up, group spokesman Ken Childress said. Short of spending a lot of money on lawyers, the group found it didn't have many options, Childress said.
"At this point, I don't know what we can do but continue to raise objections," he said.
Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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