News

Some wary of letter to tribe

SNOQUALMIE - It wasn't next year's budget or a proposed $9 million pool and community center - items that have been on many peoples' minds in recent months - that had people talking at Monday's Snoqualmie City Council meeting, sometimes on the verge of tears or on the brink of anger.

It was a letter.

Dated Tuesday, Dec. 11, a letter from Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher to Joseph Mullen, chairman of the Snoqualmie Tribe, states that the city is willing to discuss providing services, such as sewer, water, police and fire, for a proposed casino that would be located outside city limits in Snoqualmie's urban

growth boundary.

"Both parties recognize the mutual benefit of coordinating these services from the standpoint of efficiency, fiscal prudence, continuity of essential governmental services and environmental protection," Fletcher wrote. He went on to say any services the city offers to the Tribe would be subject to a written agreement. That agreement must be approved by the City Council.

At its last meeting of the year, the City Council voted 4-1 to send the letter to the Snoqualmie Tribe, with Councilwoman Cathy (Runkle) Reed opposing the motion. After the vote, angry residents cried "Embarrassing!" and "Disgraceful!" before leaving the temporary council chambers in the Snoqualmie Department of Public Safety-Police Division building.

The letter was written at the request of the Tribe. Councilman Ray Mullen, who also serves as the Tribe's economic development director, said the letter demonstrates to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that the Snoqualmies are proceeding with plans to build the casino. The BIA is considering an application from the Snoqualmie Tribe to place in trust about 56 acres of land currently owned by Snoqualmie Hills Joint Venture.

"It means that we're trying to move forward, and we're trying to do it with community input," Mullen said of the request for the letter.

Several people who attended the meeting, from both inside and outside city limits, told council members there was no need to send the letter. Even current and soon-to-be council members were worried about the impact sending the letter would have.

"I don't know anybody who I've talked to that wants one," said Monica Barbuscia, her voice quavering, of the planned casino.

Reed said by sending the letter, the city was aiding the Snoqualmie Tribe in its efforts.

"I think that making this statement actually facilitates the purchase of the land," she stated, later saying, "I think this letter is being used to push the process with the BIA. I believe this council is trying to hamstring the next council."

Councilman-elect Greg Fullington urged the council to listen to those who attended the meeting, saying they represented a number of residents with similar concerns.

"Don't ratify. Don't send it. Just wait," he said.

City Attorney Pat Anderson said the letter does not promise that the city will provide services to the casino, only that the city is willing to discuss providing them.

"This is simply letting the Tribe know ... that the city is, in effect, willing to talk with them," he said.

"This letter does not commit us to anything. All this letter does is show our hand of friendship to the Tribe that we are willing to discuss this," Councilman Frank Lonergan said.

Councilwoman Colleen Johnson said debate over the proposed casino was reminiscent of similar debates concerning Snoqualmie Ridge.

"I think ... it is incredibly better to create dialogue and not yelling at each other," she said.

Like many others who attended the meeting, Jim Anderson said more information was needed before the city enters discussions with the Tribe. And he called on the City Council to help disseminate that information to the public.

"You're elected officials. You need to lead us," he said.

But as the Snoqualmie Tribe is a sovereign nation, there is only so much the city can do. Fletcher said the city could hold a large public meeting about the casino, but representatives of the Tribe would likely not be present to answer questions or listen to comments.

Mullen acknowledged that he wouldn't attend a large meeting, but he said he is willing to talk with smaller groups.

"I'm doing this with groups of people that want to sit down and talk, not to sit down and boil," he said, adding that the Snoqualmie Tribe is not required to provide the presentations.

"We've asked for input. We're not trying to slide back on anybody," he said.

Snoqualmie Tribe Vice Chairwoman Mary Anne Hinzman said the Snoqualmies did not arrive at the decision to build a casino lightly, taking four years to do so. But she said it is the only way the Tribe can generate enough money to provide services for its members, adding that it is willing to work with the city toward its goal.

"We want to work with this town that is named after our people," she said.

Councilman-elect Jay Rodne said by talking with the Tribe, the city may get some of the information people are wanting.

"This letter, to me, is about what we're trying to do," he said.

* In other business, the Snoqualmie City Council adopted the 2002 budget by a vote of 4-1, with Reed dissenting. And in a welcome bit of news, City Administrator Gary Armstrong said because of an error by the King County Assessor's Office, Snoqualmie will receive an additional $199,000 in property taxes on new construction for next year.

The council voted unanimously to change the name of View Park to Whitaker Park, in honor of Dr. John Whitaker, a longtime Snoqualmie resident and physician.

The City Council also heard presentations about the pool and community center. Stan Lokting of ARC Architects, which has been working on the project, estimated that it would cost about $9 million to construct the 35,000-square-foot facility. More information on the pool and community center project will be featured in next week's Valley Record.

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

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