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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Op-ed: Spokane Tribe's casino project will create thousands of jobs | Opinion | The Seattle Times

Op-ed: Spokane Tribe's casino project will create thousands of jobs | Opinion | The Seattle Times

By Ben Stuckart
Special to The Times

Ben Stuckart

Pro: Don't let Spokane Tribe build a casino off reservation
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FOR hundreds of years the Spokane Tribe of Indians has lived and raised families across the many miles of the Spokane River Basin, including present city sites such as Airway Heights and Spokane. This region is the tribe's traditional ancestral land.

Today, the Spokane Tribe is developing what is called the Spokane Tribe Economic Project. Because the project is proposed beyond the limits of reservation borders and it includes a casino, some fear it will spark an expansion of Indian gaming. ["Reject Spokane Tribe's 3rd casino," Opinion, Aug. 7.]

It will not. The project is much more than a casino. It includes stores, offices and a community health center. It will create thousands of jobs for the tribe and for the city of Spokane.

The 145-acre project site itself, located in Airway Heights, is slightly beyond the limits of the U.S. government's designated Spokane Tribe reservation. But it is well within the tribe's historic ancestral grounds. It is actually the location of a battle between Spokane tribal members and soldiers in the late 1800s.

Because the project includes a casino, it is subject to a rigorous and extensive government review and approval process which is now under way.

The planned development includes major retail operations, an office complex, community health and safety facilities, and a hotel and entertainment center that will include the casino.

This $400 million investment in private dollars will result in much-needed new employment for the Spokane region -- 3,000 permanent and 2,000 construction jobs, according to an independent environmental and economic analysis conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It will help temper a serious unemployment rate the tribe and overall region are both dealing with.

While some have suggested that approval of this project might lead to rampant expansion of Indian gaming, that is simply not correct.

As a project, it stands alone, and is being evaluated meticulously by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and by our governor -- all of whom must eventually sign off on it under a process governed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

For more than six years the Spokane Tribe has undertaken a detailed process to meet all legal and regulatory steps under the closest of public scrutiny to make this project happen on land it owns.

The process, known as a two-part determination, is transparent and difficult.

In addition to federal scrutiny, local agencies have been brought into the process including the city of Airway Heights, Spokane County, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington State Department of Transportation, Spokane International Airport and the National Indian Gaming Commission.

In order for a tribe to obtain a favorable determination it must prove that the project is in the best interest of the Spokane Tribe and is not detrimental to the surrounding community. It must comply with Bureau of Indian Affairs policies that state the project has a strong historical tie to the proposed site and the project lies within a commutable distance from its reservation.

The Spokane Tribe certainly meets all of these requirements. No other tribe now or in the future could.

Ben Stuckart is president of the Spokane City Council.

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