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News / Business / Clark County Business

Cowlitz Indian Tribe expands reservation near La Center by about 60 acres

La Center council agrees to let Cowlitz Tribe incorporate land east of I-5 into trust

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 30, 2024, 8:07pm

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is expanding its 152-acre reservation near La Center by about 60 acres.

The tribe purchased the property a few years ago, but a 2016 agreement with the city of La Center prohibited the tribe from taking the land into trust, which would place it under tribal governance and outside local and federal jurisdiction.

The La Center City Council last week voted to release the tribe from that agreement. This means that most of the land in question will shift to tribal governance, with the exact date to be decided by the federal government. The April 24 vote represented a tremendous stride forward in relations between the tribe and the city, officials said.

“When I got into this role, the city and the tribe had zero relationship,” La Center Mayor Tom Strobehn said. “We wanted to build a relationship with the tribe, and during the year we have.”

The land is located at the Interstate 5-La Center junction east of ilani, the tribe’s casino, and includes property within La Center city limits. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe has agreed to pay the city a percentage of tax revenue from both commercial development and tribal businesses on the land in compensation for taxes the city would have collected on future properties.

The tribe “envisions attracting retail, hospitality and service businesses that would be naturally drawn to the area between the tribe’s and the city’s growth, serving as an exciting gateway to both La Center and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s reservation,” according to a Tuesday statement released by the tribe.

This could boost La Center’s annual revenue by an estimated $313,684 to $376,421, according to a report by Exigy Consulting requested by the city.

“The Cowlitz Indian Tribe celebrates this agreement with the city of La Center as a wonderful evolution in our long-term partnership together,” said Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, Cowlitz Tribal General Council chairwoman. “When building ilani, Cowlitz made a promise of being good neighbors, a responsible steward of our land and resources, and to invest in new opportunities that benefit our community and our people. Today, we can proudly say that we’ve lived up to this promise and are eager to continue leading a vision with the city of La Center based on shared prosperity and mutual respect.”

Under the new agreement, the tribe can take into trust three-quarters of the land within the city’s I-5 junction area on the west side of the city, according to the Exigy Consulting report. The remaining 25% may be acquired by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, but would remain under city jurisdiction. The mayor said the transfer of lands to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe doesn’t impact the city’s plans to expand the downtown core. If anything, Strobehn said, the transfer of lands can only help the city by providing additional sources of revenue.

“The new downtown is going to take some serious time, but the tribe can actually move quicker than we can,” Strobehn said. “The future is coming at us super-fast. If we don’t have sources for revenue, the city’s in serious trouble. And that’s not what I want to see happen to La Center.”

The tribe has also agreed to financially assist La Center school and fire districts, which stand to lose future property tax revenue under the new agreement. The tribe has already donated $390,000 to La Center schools in the past three years, a number confirmed by Maria Swinger-Inskeep, director of administrative services for the city.

Under the 2016 agreement, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe paid for improvements to I-5, an extension of the city’s western sewer line and realignment of Paradise Park Road. The tribe has also provided two new ambulances to Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue.

Cowlitz Indian Tribal members were expected to attend the “push-in” ceremony this morning to put the new vehicles into service. Altogether, the Cowlitz Tribal Foundation has donated $28 million to Clark County and the state of Washington.

Strobehn said the agreement comes at a good time. The city has relied on gambling to provide up to 40 percent of its revenue dating back to 1983, a precarious position, Strobehn said. The city’s partnership with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe is something that should have happened long ago, the mayor said.

“They’ve waited 20 years to have any type of relationship with the city,” Strobehn said. “I wasn’t waiting any longer to build a relationship with our neighbors.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect details of the new agreement.