La Center council OKs sewer pact with tribe

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: December 15, 2011, 6:15 PM

 

The La Center City Council gave the go-ahead Wednesday night to a 20-year, multimillion-dollar sewer agreement between the city and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

However, the agreement is contingent on a federal court’s ruling on whether the tribe can use 152 acres of land to build a proposed casino. No work on La Center’s sewer system will be done until the court makes its ruling, Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said.

There is no timeline on the court’s decision, tribe Chairman Bill Iyall said.

The proposed 20-year deal between La Center and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe would allow the tribe to use the city’s expanded wastewater treatment system and extend the city’s sewer lines to the Interstate 5 junction. La Center annexed its way to the junction in September.

“This serves the needs of both communities and draws us together as one,” Iyall said Thursday morning.

The city council approved the agreement 4-1 Wednesday night. Councilwoman Linda Tracy was the lone dissenting vote. Tracy also opposed the council’s decision to open talks with the tribe in March.

The Cowlitz Tribal Council will vote on whether to approve the agreement at its Jan. 7 meeting, Iyall said. Once that happens, the tribe would pay La Center $7,500 for a sewer study the city performed last year, Sarvis said.

Under the proposed deal, the tribe would pay the city $6.6 million to buy into capacity built by the city, around $5.7 million to build a sewer line to the junction and around $2 million to double wastewater capacity, Sarvis said. The tribe would have the option to buy another $4.3 million worth of wastewater capacity, he added.

As a result of the pact, La Center would be able to pay off millions of dollars in wastewater treatment facility-related debt, provide sewer lines to 471 acres of recently added commercial and residential real estate, and charge residents less for sewer services because it would have more customers, the city said.

Likewise, the tribe would receive much-needed sewer services for its 3,700 members and its commercial enterprises (i.e., the proposed casino), Iyall said.

La Center’s council delayed voting on the sewer agreement during its Nov. 21 meeting. The council delayed making a decision after questions were raised about the benefit of holding a vote just three days after the public became aware of the tentative deal.

No audience members spoke during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting. However, the city did receive five letters and two emails opposing the agreement from attorneys involved in the lawsuit, members of a nonprofit aimed at protecting the East Fork Lewis River and former mayoral candidate Troy Van Dinter.

John Bockmier, a consultant for the four La Center cardrooms, attended Wednesday’s meeting but did not speak. Bockmier questioned La Center’s hurry to approve the agreement Nov. 21. There was no point in repeating himself Wednesday, he said.

“We’ll see what happens down the road,” Bockmier said. “Obviously, there are more chapters to be written.”