La Center drafts sewer extension review

City proposes to serve a potential Cowlitz casino

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

The city of La Center has released a draft environmental impact statement that lays a framework for extending sewer service beyond the city's urban growth area to the site of a proposed Cowlitz Tribe casino.

The environmental impact statement calls for amending the city's comprehensive plan, urban area capital facilities plan and municipal code, and comes during a legal dispute brought by Clark County, Vancouver and other plaintiffs against the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At issue in the lawsuit is whether to allow the Cowlitz Tribe to build a $510 million casino on land west of La Center, near the Interstate 5 junction. In April, the Department of the Interior agreed to place 152-acre swath west of La Center in trust on behalf of the tribe.

That Record of Decision, after years of lawsuits, gave the tribe the go-ahead to establish a reservation on the land. The present lawsuit, filed in June, reopened that question. Oral arguments are expected to begin early next year.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are mounting a strong case against the Cowlitz casino, said Brent Boger, an assistant Vancouver city attorney who is working on the case. At the heart of their argument is the idea that the Cowlitz Tribe has no authority to establish a reservation on the land.

"The city (of Vancouver) is interested in the impacts (a casino would have) on housing, traffic, as well as socioeconomic impacts, such as crime caused by gambling addiction," Boger said. "Those are the city's primary concerns."

But La Center sees extending sewer services to the reservation as a way to pay off millions of dollars of its wastewater treatment facility debt by boosting its customer base. In 2011, the city annexed 470 acres near the Interstate 5 junction -- land that abuts the proposed Cowlitz reservation.

"It's about dollars and cents for our sewer customers," said city planner Dale Miller.

The city is contemplating raising its sewer rates so it doesn't have to dip into its reserve funds. On the other hand, tapping into the Cowlitz reserva

tion would mean bringing more ratepayers into the system, Miller said. While the growth management act expressly disallows the city from extending its sewer service outside city limits, tribal land is not subject to the act because of federal preemption.

The Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board struck down a sewer service agreement between the city and the tribe, saying it conflicted with the city's comprehensive plan.

The Cowlitz plans call for building a casino with a 134,150-square-foot gaming floor, 3,000 slot machines, 135 gaming tables and 20 poker tables. The development would also include restaurants, shops and a 250-room hotel, with an attached RV park. It would also feature a small wastewater treatment plant.

According to the city's draft environmental impact statement, that new sewage plant on the tribe's land would harm the East Fork of the Lewis River. Connecting to city sewer services would be friendlier to the environment, it says.

The comment period for the draft environmental impact statement ends Oct. 21. The statement is on the city's website at http://ci.lacenter.wa.us/community/CompPlanAmd2013.html.