Casino to benefit region

Cowlitz project will act as an economic engine

With the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cowlitz Reservation and Casino Project on May 30, Southwest Washington is one step closer to realizing a new economic engine in Clark County.

The Cowlitz Tribe has agreed – as part of its proposal for its first reservation and casino and resort project – to make payments to local governments far in excess of any other tribe in Washington State.

Every year the Cowlitz project will provide millions of dollars in payments in lieu of property taxes, millions of dollars to an education and arts fund and at least USD 50,000.00 to a problem gaming fund. The tribe also will collect retail sales tax for state and local governments and will collect the hotel occupancy fee for the county.

The tribe will pay millions of dollars to rebuild the interchange and roads on Interstate 5 at exit 16. The Cowlitz project also will provide more than 4,000 union construction jobs and 3,000 jobs with full benefits to operate the casino. And about 90 percent of employees are anticipated to be existing Clark or Cowlitz County residents.

The economic opportunity offered by the reservation and casino will allow the Cowlitz Tribe to provide education, employment, housing, health, culture and natural resource preservation for the Cowlitz people, and for many regional citizens.

In 1855, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe was denied a treaty and a reservation within their historic homeland by the federal government through Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens, which lead to devastating consequences for the Cowlitz people. This happened in spite of the recommendation of Indian Agent William Tappan in 1854 to establish a Cowlitz reservation at Chelatchie Prairie, in northern Clark County about 15 miles east of the current proposed Cowlitz Reservation. After 153 years, the federal government is on the verge of correcting this historic miscarriage of justice.

There is a fear-based opposition campaign taking place that has asserted false information, distorted facts and attempted to rewrite history.

To set the record straight, in 2004 after 18 months of negotiation, the Cowlitz Tribe and Clark County entered into a memorandum of understanding. To suggest that Clark County did not know that the Tribe was planning to build a casino on its reservation is ridiculous. The MOU provided for a 2 percent payment of net proceeds from the casino for an education and arts fund, a yearly payment to the County into a problem gaming fund and for agreements for police, fire and health services for the casino. The county and the tribe negotiated the MOU in good faith to mitigate impacts from the proposed casino.

The Tribe has always planned and publicly indicated its intent to take the land into trust under either the Initial Reservation or the Restored Lands provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The Tribe even requested and received a Restored Lands Opinion in 2005 from the National Indian Gaming Commission, which found that the proposed site is within the historical homeland of the Cowlitz people.

And the proposed Cowlitz Casino is not a “mega-casino” – it will not even be the largest tribal casino in Washington State. At full build-out, the Cowlitz project would have at most a 250-room hotel.

The citizens of Clark County deserve the truth about the Cowlitz Tribe and our proposal.

Editor’s note: William Iyall’s column is in response to our request to both the Cowlitz Tribe and those opposing the casino to provide an opinion on the business advantages and/or disadvantages of the proposed Cowlitz casino project. Our intention was to present both opinions in our June 27 edition, but due to the passing of former tribal chairman John Barnett, the tribe was unable to respond in that edition.

Neither of the opinions (the opposing viewpoint was published June 27) addressed the business issues as directly as we would have liked. Even so, it is an important business issue and one deserving of discussion on this page.

Let us know your thoughts about what business consequences you foresee if the casino becomes a reality in Southwest Washington.