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Aug. 15, 2022

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Vancouver ends Cowlitz casino fight

City council votes to rescind 2007 resolution opposing tribal project

By , Columbian City Government Reporter

Moments after Cowlitz tribal leaders urged the Vancouver City Council to begin working with them, the council unanimously voted Monday to overturn a 2007 resolution opposing the tribe’s casino project west of La Center.

The resolution ends the city’s participation in the current lawsuit challenging the casino, and it invites dialogue between the city government and tribal government.

“We feel it will be a new beginning, turning a page on a history that maybe we’d rather not look back at. But it’s a breath of fresh air,” Cowlitz Tribe Chairman Bill Iyall said during Monday’s public hearing. “We’re more than happy to work on any remaining issues you have.”

Cowlitz tribal member Dave Barnett, project founder and son of the late Cowlitz Chairman John Barnett, recalled how his father had shaken hands years ago with then-Mayor Royce Pollard and the two had agreed to work together. Soon afterward, the city council passed a resolution that directed the city attorney to explore all legal options to oppose the location of the casino in Clark County.

“My dad — it bothered him, you shake a hand and then that happens,” Barnett said. “But I know he’s smiling today. … This government relationship will go far beyond what we can anticipate.”

City Attorney Brent Boger said that since 2007, two things have changed. First, the county is now a party in the litigation trying to block the casino, and it’s in a position to see after the interests of local government in the case. Also, the casino’s construction is well underway and looks “like it will happen,” Boger said.

The casino is being built just went of Interstate 5 at Exit 16. It is 40 percent complete, the tribe said Friday.

“The time is now to move forward in the right direction,” said Philip Harju, the tribe’s vice chair. “Better late than never.”

Tribal leaders offered assurances that they would address the city’s concerns about housing, transportation and the demand for social and health services due to an increase in problem gambling. In response to a question from Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, they said they could not have retail marijuana sales on the reservation due to federal restrictions with their financing.

“As long as I’m around, it’s not ever going to be on there,” Barnett said, referring to marijuana sales on the reservation.

A handful of citizens spoke in favor of the new resolution, saying the casino was creating jobs for carpenters, first-time apprentices and other skilled trade workers in Southwest Washington.

“I’ve been pounding on a whole lot of you for a lot of years,” said Ed Barnes, chairman of the Labor Roundtable. “It’s absolutely imperative that we do this.”

Mayor Tim Leavitt, the only remaining council member from 2007, said rescinding the resolution “is a long time coming.”

“Thank you for your partnership, thank you for your leadership and thank you for your patience,” Leavitt told the tribe.

Following the adoption of the 2007 resolution, the city later joined in a lawsuit by the county, operators of La Center’s cardrooms, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and a group called Citizens Against Reservation Shopping (of which Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell is a member) that challenged the U.S. Department of the Interior’s approval of the Cowlitz Indian Reservation. When the plaintiffs lost that suit in U.S. District Court, they appealed to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments in the appeal were heard March 18, and a ruling is expected this summer.

The city’s new resolution says Vancouver no longer will participate in the appeal because the city council believes doing so may impede talks with the tribe that could benefit the Southwest Washington community.

Columbian City Government Reporter

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