In Our View: More Woes for Casino

Federal judge imposes deadline as Cowlitz Tribe and BIA lose momentum



Fortunately for Clark County residents who want to maintain the community’s high quality of life, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s proposal for a mega-casino near La Center has encountered yet another obstacle, this one placed by the federal agency that tribal officials have long hoped would champion their cause.As we’ve learned recently, the Bureau of Indian Affairs either lost or never reviewed important historical documents provided by casino opponents. That led the Justice Department to seek a delay in the federal proceedings. But U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts recently denied that request and — to make matters worse for casino hopefuls and BIA official — set an Oct. 5 deadline for making a difficult choice: The federal government must decide if it will defend itself in court or rescind the BIA’s 2010 decision that supported the casino proposal, which lacked the crucial information from casino foes. Clearly, the BIA and tribal officials are backed into a corner by the federal agency’s blunder, and the lingering reality that casino opponents are making a compelling case.

A year and a half ago The Columbian applauded the decision by several casino foes to appeal the BIA ruling to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Those parties included Clark County, the city of Vancouver, owners of property near the proposed casino site on Interstate 5, La Center cardrooms and Citizens Against Reservation Shopping (CARS). And now, that appeal reveals itself to be eminently valid. (Among CARS members is Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell. The newspaper has long opposed the proposed casino because it would negatively impact the local quality of life).

How the BIA could’ve lost or ignored key data provided by casino foes is a question that must be answered after close scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department. For now, the second in a double whammy has been delivered to casino supporters.

The first haymaker was thrown by the worst recession in seven decades. Few visible efforts have been made by casino proponents in the past few years, no surprise considering the financial hole that all of America has been digging itself out of.

The second severe setback was this recent confusion and legal desperation within the BIA. According to a Thursday Columbian story by Stephanie Rice, some of the overlooked documents dispute tribal claims that the Cowlitz have historical ties to the land near La Center. That tribal argument was countered years ago, as revealed by these assertions we presented in a 2007 editorial: “Tribal headquarters are in Longview (Cowlitz County), a housing center is farther north in Toledo (Lewis County) and ample historical evidence” places the tribal homeland to the north of Clark County.

Another matter of dispute pertains to federal recognition. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the federal government can only put land into trust for tribes that were under federal jurisdiction in 1934. But the Cowlitz tribe was federally recognized in 2000.

Thus, we see the Cowlitz casino proposal sinking deeper into a regulatory abyss from which it might never escape. And that’s good for Clark County.