La Center, Cowlitz in talks on a sewer for planned casino

Annexation will require city to extend lines nearly to tribal site

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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The La Center City Council will vote during Wednesday night’s council meeting to annex 471 acres of commercial and residential land that would bring the city to the Interstate 5 junction.

The annexation is viewed as a hallmark victory in the city’s quest to diversify its tax base, which is largely dependent on four card rooms, officials said. But with the new real estate will come questions about how to provide sewage for all involved.

Enter the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which is in talks to help La Center pay a portion of the tab for the sewer lines to the junction, in exchange for aid moving waste from its 152 acres of land west of I-5, city and tribe officials said. The Cowlitz tribe aims to build a casino on its land.

Six months after the La Center City Council voted to open talks with the tribe, leaders of both bodies said Tuesday that preliminary negotiations are going well and they hope they can forge a mutually beneficial relationship. That includes current talks about sewers, which have been ongoing the past month, and soon-to-come discussions on a new interchange off I-5 that would allow motorists easier access to the tribe’s land.

Such talks are significant considering the council and tribe did not officially speak about the proposed casino for four years after the council banned all dialogue with the tribe in 2007.

“I am quite surprised,” La Center Mayor Jim Irish said of negotiations, “considering we didn’t want to work with them in the past.”

Officials for each side said Tuesday it was too soon to say exactly how much the tribe would contribute to the city’s sewer lines or when and where the lines would be built. Irish estimated the tribe would pay “more so than a 50-50 split” for the lines.

La Center spent $13 million over the past 18 months upgrading its wastewater treatment. The facility has the capacity to handle 3 million gallons of waste per day. That amount could be expanded in the future, should the need arise.

Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall predicted each side would have a clearer answer to sewer-related questions in “a month or two at the most.”

Tribal officials are trying to put a detailed plan in place, Iyall said, so they are ready to act once the U.S. District Court rules on Clark County’s appeal of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision to allow the Cowlitz to establish and build a casino near La Center. The appeal is pending in the Washington, D.C., court.

“It all dovetails into the schedule for our needs, which largely depend on the courts,” he said. “We need time to build and develop our facilities.” He noted the tribe’s plans were more immediate in their timetable than the city’s growth model, spread across two decades.

Plans for the Cowlitz reservation call for a two-story casino with 3,000 slot machines, 135 gaming tables and a 250-room hotel; plus an RV park, 10 restaurants and retail shops. It is unclear if the proposed $510 million complex will be scaled back due to the economy’s extended slump.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.