In April 2008, I attended a contentious, somewhat acrimonious, La Center City Council meeting at which council members discussed a proposal to hold an advisory vote regarding the proposed Cowlitz Tribe casino near the La Center I-5 junction. Most La Center City Council meetings are held at City Hall, but this one was moved to the La Center Community Center to accommodate a larger crowd of concerned citizens.
The council members at that time, none of which are still serving on the current council, rejected the proposal for the advisory vote that would have asked citizens of the city to answer two questions. First, if city officials should enter into talks with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe about providing sewer to the Tribe’s property near the I-5 junction. Second, if the members should seek to mitigate all of the identified impacts of the proposed Tribal Casino.
Many members of the council and other city officials and residents had been passionately involved in the Cowlitz Casino issue for many years at that point. I had only been covering the issue for less than a year at that time. I will never forget the over-riding feeling I had as I sat there and listened to the testimony and watched as council members Troy Van Dinter, Bob Smith and Linda Tracy voted against the resolution, denying the proposed advisory vote.
I want to point out that I had, and still have, no shortage of respect or appreciation for those three former La Center council members. I still interact with all three to this day even though they are no longer in office. But, on that night, I just couldn’t stop thinking “why don’t you just give up the fight? This thing is inevitable. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.’’ I don’t think I expressed that to anyone at the time, or anytime since. I just remember it dominating my thoughts that night.
I have now covered the issue for about five years. And, over the past few weeks, I have spoke to many people on each side of the issue including leadership of the Cowlitz Tribe and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, the provider of much of the financial backing for the proposed project. I’ve also spoke with key representatives from the legal team and others from those groups who are appealing the 2010 federal decision to allow the Cowlitz Tribe to take the 152 acres near the La Center junction into trust, which frees the Cowlitz to build the proposed casino.
My recent discussions have centered on the denial by a federal district court judge of a request from the Department of Justice for a “voluntary remand’’ to review information it had misplaced. The documents in question were submitted by the parties who were appealing the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) December 2010 decision to allow the Cowlitz Tribe to take 152 acres near the La Center junction into trust.
That decision by the BIA was appealed by the operators of the four La Center cardrooms, Clark County, the City of Vancouver, nearby property owners Al Alexanderson and Greg and Susan Gilbert, and the Citizens Against Reservation Shopping. In its request for a remand, or stay, the Department of Justice (representing the BIA) revealed that it had lost or misplaced documents that were part of the historical record of the case and were supplied to them by legal representatives of those parties who filed the appeal.
In the ruling, the judge gave the Department of Justice until Fri., Oct. 5 to notify the court of its decision to either proceed with its defense against the appeal, despite its failure to address historic materials in the record, or rescind or change its 2010 decision.
And, the discussions I’ve had over the past few weeks have left me with another over-riding feeling. I no longer believe that it’s inevitable that the Cowlitz Casino will be built. I’m not saying it won’t be built, but for the first time in the five years I’ve covered this story, I think this battle is no longer one-sided. And, I think most citizens in the area aren’t paying attention. I believe they still think, as I used to, that the future construction of the casino is inevitable.
There’s no question the leadership of the Cowlitz Tribe and the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority still believe it’s inevitable that the project will be built. They may be right. But, there’s also no question the legal team representing those making the appeal believe that the federal government has no choice but to rescind its 2010 decision or else proceed with a losing case due to the failure to address the key historic materials.
A glimpse into which side is right may come as early as this week when the Department of Justice reveals its response to the judge’s deadline. Stay tuned.