Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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La Center sewer plan hits big snag

Judge: City can't expand services to Cowlitz Indian Reservation

By , Columbian Small Cities Reporter

The city of La Center might not be able to extend sewer services to the Cowlitz Indian Reservation after a Thurston County Superior Court judge weighed in, ruling that the proposal violates Clark County’s planning policies.

In late August, Judge Gary R. Tabor ruled that building sewer lines beyond the city’s urban growth boundary to the tribe’s new reservation land west of Interstate 5 is not permitted under Clark County’s 20-Year growth management plan. Tabor’s ruling aligns with the opinion of the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board, which handed down its own ruling on the matter in May.

The Cowlitz Tribe and the city have had an agreement for the $14 million project in place since 2011. Plans have long been in the works to build a large casino-resort with a hotel and shopping center on the 152-acre site.

City officials contend that since the reservation is federal land, the county’s growth management policies do not apply in this case.

Going forward, the city can either appeal Tabor’s decision or drop it, leaving the tribe to come up with another plan for its sewer system, said Dan Kearns, the city’s attorney. Scrapping the agreement altogether would be costly for the city, and it would come at a time of declining tax revenue from La Center’s cardrooms, which provide about 75 percent of the city’s operating budget.

The ruling came as something of a surprise to city officials, Kearns said. They’ve asked Kearns to come up with a recommendation for the La Center City Council by Sept. 23, but at this point, he’s still mulling over his options.

An appeal would likely move the process back another year, as the city and the tribe wait for a new hearing on their agreement. But whether they want to wait that long is another question.

“They are kind of tired of it and they want to decide quickly,” Kearns said. “But there are so many factors in this. There’s the cost, the time, how the case is going in Washington, D.C. So, I’m not sure. I’ll have to give it some thought.”

Columbian Small Cities Reporter