The Spokane Tribe of Indians' long-discussed potential development of a casino resort on a 145-acre parcel of trust land on the west side of Airway Heights appears poised to move to the next step in the federal approval process.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs said in a notice of intent published last month in the Federal Register that it, in cooperation with the tribe, will prepare an environmental impact statement for the tribe's proposed mixed-use project and corresponding master plan. Per federal regulations, it has scheduled a public EIS and traffic study scoping meeting on the project for Sept. 16, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., in the Sunset Elementary School gymnasium, at 12824 W. 12th, in Airway Heights.
The agency said in the published notice that the project potentially could include a casino resort and hotel, commercial retail uses, offices, and medical, recreational, cultural, and entertainment facilities. The roughly square-shaped parcel on which it would be developed is located on the north side of U.S. 2 west of Craig Road, about 10 miles west of Spokane.
The Wellpinit, Wash.-based tribe announced plans for the three-phase development in January 2006, estimating the project would create more than 1,000 construction jobs and 2,100 permanent jobs, with the latter adding an estimated $48 million in annual wages to the economy here. Though it presented only conceptual drawings of what the development would look like, it estimated the construction cost for the entire master plan at $130 million.
The BIA notice said intergovernmental agreements between the tribe and the city of Airway Heights cover details about shared responsibilities related to law enforcement and security services, public health and safety, and road maintenance and repair. Significant issues to be covered during the scoping process, it said, might include air quality, transportation, surface and ground-water resources, biological resources, cultural resources, socioeconomic conditions, public services, infrastructure, land use, aesthetics, and environmental justice.
Public comments about the project will be accepted at the scoping meeting, by mail or fax, or through the project Web site, at www.westplainseis.com. The scoping process will determine the extent of the environmental analysis to be conducted. After that's completed, a draft EIS will be prepared and released for public review and comment. The comments received will be considered in the preparation of a final EIS, which currently is scheduled for completion by next June.
The Web site says a master planning team is evaluating three project alternatives that will be reviewed as part of the EIS process, all of which are subject to change. Each alternative calls for a mixed-use commercial development, with varying amounts of space devoted to hotel, restaurant and bar, retail, entertainment, and tribal cultural center uses. One alternative, though, also shows a 1,500-slot machine casino with 47 table games and another envisions a larger, 3,000-slot machine casino with 75 table games, while the third proposes no gaming activity on the site. That alternative includes 120,000 square feet for tribal enterprise offices, which the other two don't.
The alternatives range in total enclosed building area from 1.5 million square feet to 2.2 million square feet, in retail space from about 570,000 square feet to 827,000 square feet, and in hotel size from 300 to 900 guest rooms.
For each alternative, the first phase of development is proposed tentatively to begin in the fourth quarter of next year. The small-casino and no-casino alternatives both are projected to be completed in 2013, while the large-casino alternative envisions completion in 2016.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a controversial gaming compact with the tribe in February 2007 that set limits on the size and scope of the gambling enterprise the tribe can develop and brought those operations under the umbrella of a cooperative tribal, state, and federal regulatory structure. The U.S. Department of the Interior approved the compact in the spring of 2007, ending 16 years of negotiations and litigation between the government and the Spokane Tribe and removing the final major obstacle to establishing legalized gaming on tribe-owned land here.
The tribe constructed a Spoko Fuel convenience store and gas station on a small portion of the West Plains site shortly after unveiling its overall development plans there, but Sijohn says progress has been slower than expected in moving the rest of the project through the regulatory process.
Any new casino the Spokane Tribe develops on the property would have to compete head-to-head with the Usk, Wash.-based Kalispel Tribe of Indians' bustling Northern Quest Resort & Casino, located on the other side of Airway Heights along Hayford Road. It employs more than 1,200 people, and expects to add several hundred more employees by the end of this year, when a new 250-room hotel is slated to open next to the casino. The hotel is the centerpiece of a $200 million expansion project at the casino, which opened in December of 2000.
The Northern Quest casino sits on a portion of nearly 300 acres that includes property fronting on Hayford and U.S. 2.
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