Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) last week gave final approval to the Spokane Tribe’s plan to build a casino and resort one mile from Fairchild Air Force Base in eastern Washington, a project the region’s leaders say poses a threat to the installation’s future.
In a written statement, the governor’s office explained that Inslee’s decision came after a year of legal review and discussions with multiple tribal governments, state and local authorities, federal officials, Air Force leaders, and business and community groups.
“This is not a simple situation with an easy, clear-cut answer,” Inslee said. “I wanted to be sure to fully understand all perspectives on this issue before making a decision. All sides have very compelling arguments in favor of and against this proposal. After much consideration, I decided that allowing the Spokane Tribe to develop on its federally recognized land was both fair and appropriate under the federal legal requirements,” he said.
The $400 million Spokane Tribe Economic Project (STEP) is set to be built on land the federal government set aside to benefit the tribe economically. Last June, the Interior Department approved the project following a two-year review.
The Spokane County Board of Commissioners condemned the decision in a written statement, saying the governor effectively had “gambled on Fairchild’s future.”
“[T]he county commissioners fail to see how the governor could have approved the STEP, which would be located immediately beneath the closed traffic pattern pilots fly in training operations at Fairchild Air Force Base.”
A joint statement from Greater Spokane Inc. and Forward Fairchild echoed the commissioners’ response.
“This presents noise, light and safety concerns that will likely force the alteration of flight patterns, and affect the quantity and times of flights, the amount of fuel used and the expense to fly those training missions. Although alternative locations for this development have been presented to the Spokane Tribe, they have chosen not to pursue them,” the groups said.
If the project had been proposed by a private developer, it would not have been allowed under current land use regulations as it falls within the military influence area established following a joint land use study, according to the statement.
The governor’s office emphasized that “protecting the vitality of the state’s military installations” was a key consideration in Inslee’s decision, reported the Inlander.
In February, Miranda Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, wrote Inslee that “any issues that may have been of concern were addressed via the Tribe’s proposed mitigations.” The casino’s location is “well outside of the existing noise zones and potential accident zones,” according to the letter.