Formal opposition to the proposed Cowlitz tribal casino in north Clark County has been expressed over several years by city councils in Vancouver, La Center and Woodland; chambers of commerce in Vancouver and Battle Ground; property owners near the site and business groups throughout the area. Thus, there is ample room for rejoicing at Wednesday's news that the casino project has been dealt a severe blow by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein in Washington, D.C., essentially sent the decade-in-the-works project back to square one. She threw out a 2010 Record of Decision that had recognized the tribe's right to establish a reservation on Interstate 5 near La Center. "The court will not waste its or the parties' resources on such a fruitless endeavor" as litigating the 2010 ROD, which had become mired in federal bureaucratic blunders. Not the least of those mistakes had been the Bureau of Indian Affairs either losing or never receiving important documents from casino opponents.
Critical in those documents was the correct (in our opinion) refutation of the Cowlitz Tribe's claim that it has historical ties to land near La Center. That's the basis of its request for a reservation there. But as we have pointed out in previous editorials, the tribal headquarters are in Longview (Cowlitz County), a housing center is farther north in Toledo (Lewis County) and numerous historical documents describe tribal homelands as north of Clark County. Or, in modern, more cynical terms, farther from potential casino patrons in the greater Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area.
Rothstein also ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the BIA, to issue a new Record of Decision within two months. But whether the feds can meet that deadline, or whether the tribe can survive these multiple setbacks in the casino project, remains to be seen. "This case is hereby dismissed as moot," Rothstein also wrote, but casino opponents are unsure what will happen next, and casino supporters apparently were too staggered by the Wednesday haymaker to elucidate a new strategy.
Despite claims by tribal leaders, this issue is not about the tribe's economic survival. The Cowlitz for years have ranked among the most financially successful tribes in the Northwest and nationwide, in both median family income and employment.
No, the crux of this issue -- as we see it -- is the net negative impact the mega-casino would have on Clark County's quality of life. These would not be the good-paying jobs that our community needs. The stress on public education resources, social services and infrastructure would far outweigh any economic benefits. If that were not true, then the roster of casino opponents would not be so lengthy.
It's unfortunate that this contentious matter has dragged on for more than a decade. And it's highly disturbing that multiple agencies of the federal government cannot get their shared acts together. But the good news is that a federal judge has said the 2010 Record of Decision no longer exists.
Kudos to diligent attorneys at the city, county and private-sector levels. We hope that soon this struggle will wheeze its final breath.