County leads renewed fight against proposed casino

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: June 7, 2013, 10:05 PM

 

Clark County, the city of Vancouver and other plaintiffs have appealed the new federal decision allowing the Cowlitz Tribe to take approximately 152 acres west of La Center into trust to build a $510 million casino resort.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

On March 13, a federal judge dealt the tribe a surprising blow when she threw out the 2010 Record of Decision, which was amended in 2012.

U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein gave the federal government 60 days to issue a new one and the lawsuit was closed.

A new Record of Decision was issued in April.

In her March ruling, Rothstein wrote that the government ran afoul of administrative procedures when it unilaterally changed the 2010 decision.

But by saying the federal government should not have been allowed to issue a 2012 Record of Decision, it left the government in a position to try to defend the 2010 Record of Decision, Rothstein wrote.

“The court will not waste its or the parties’ resources on such a fruitless endeavor,” Rothstein wrote. “The court is also cognizant of the fact that the parties have been locked in this battle for nearly 11 years.”

Thursday’s filing opened a new lawsuit, although it was assigned to Rothstein.

Plaintiffs wrote that the new decision “simply repeats the same flawed rationale for (Department of Interior’s) decision-making as asserted” in the 2010 decision.

Also, the “(Department of Interior) ignored or discounted the jurisdictional and revenue impacts the land transfer and casino project would have on local governments and surrounding community,” the lawsuit reads.

The tribe applied in 2002 to establish a 152-acre reservation west of La Center.

The tribe’s lands and tribal offices are 24 miles north of the proposed casino site, plaintiffs argue, and “most tribal property is even farther away.”

“The casino parcel is a short 16-mile drive from Portland, Oregon, providing easy access to the Portland gaming market,” plaintiffs argue.

Cowlitz Chairman William Iyall said Friday that hopefully Rothstein will keep the case on a tight schedule, and attorneys will finish with arguing procedural issues and get to the merits of the case.

“We’re confident that when we get to those issues, that we’ll prevail,” Iyall said.

Iyall said Wednesday the tribe still has an agreement with Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority to build the complex in phases.

The appeal was filed by Clark County, the city of Vancouver, nearby property owners Al Alexanderson and Greg and Susan Gilbert; Dragonslayer Inc. and Michels Development, operators of the four La Center cardrooms; and Citizens Against Reservation Shopping, a group that includes Scott Campbell, publisher of The Columbian­.