News

BIA finishes review of assessment

SNOQUALMIE - The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has finished its initial review of an environmental assessment of land that the Snoqualmie Tribe wants to purchase for a reservation and location for a planned casino.

June Boynton, the National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for the BIA area office in Portland, said last week she would send the environmental assessment, which includes studies on subjects such as traffic and whether any archeological artifacts are located on site, back to the Tribe with her comments.

The Tribe would address those comments in a revised assessment and send it back to the BIA. The assessment is part of the Tribe's application to the BIA to have about 56 acres near Snoqualmie placed in trust by the federal government.

Boynton said there is no time limit on how long the BIA can take to review the document, saying, "It will become final when I accept it."

Once she accepts the environmental assessment, Director Stanley Speaks of the Portland BIA office will decide if building a casino would significantly impact the land. If not, he would issue a finding of nonsignificance. If it did, he would initiate the environmental impact statement (EIS) process.

Regardless of Speaks' decision, there will be opportunities for public comment. Boynton said if a finding of nonsignificance is issued, the public would have 30 days to submit comments. Under the EIS process, comments could be provided after publication of the draft EIS and the final EIS.

Stephen Walker, whose Snoqualmie Hills Joint Venture owns the land the Snoqualmie Tribe wants to acquire and who is working with the Tribe to construct the casino, said how quickly the trust application is approved depends entirely on the BIA.

"They can do pretty much what they want to," he said.

If the environmental assessment, and consequently, the trust application is approved by the Portland area BIA office, it would go to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton for her signature. Tribal leaders hope that happens sooner rather than later so they can begin providing services for their more than 1,000 members using the expected gaming revenues.

"We'd like for them to move faster," said Matthew Madsen, an attorney with the Snoqualmie Tribe.

Some, however, believe the process is moving too fast as it is. Ray Wilson of Citizens for Positive Growth in Snoqualmie Valley, whose house is a stone's throw away from the proposed casino location, said he's had difficulty trying to determine what happens next in the Tribe's trust application to the BIA.

"I think we're all really naive to the process because it's just not spelled out," Wilson said, adding that the lack of information can heighten tensions surrounding the project.

"I think the process in what it does is really negative, in that it pits the Tribe against the community," he said.

Wilson, whose group was formed after the Snoqualmie Tribe announced its intention to construct a casino for economic development purposes, also said there's a perception that winning approval from the Department of Interior, of which the BIA is a part, for the land-to-trust application is merely a formality. He doesn't believe that's the case.

"I would really encourage our community not to take it so lightly - that it's a done deal," he said.

You can reach Barry Rochford at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at barry.rochford@valleyrecord.com.

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