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Tribe trust application prompts visits

SNOQUALMIE - Officials with the Snoqualmie Tribe have met with representatives of Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn's Mercer Island office to discuss their application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to place two parcels of land near Snoqualmie in a trust, and they plan on paying a similar visit to the Snoqualmie City Council at its next meeting.

News of the visits followed concerns raised by 5th District legislators about how they were informed of the application, which, if approved, would establish a reservation for the Snoqualmies.

Jen Burita, Dunn's press secretary in Washington, D.C., said Snoqualmie Tribe leaders paid a "courtesy" visit to Dunn's office in Mercer Island on Oct. 30. Dunn, a Republican, serves the 8th District in the House of Representatives.

Burita added that the Tribe didn't ask for any help concerning its application, but said, "Jennifer will certainly be monitoring this situation as the application moves through the process."

Locally, Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said Tribe leaders talked with city officials last week about appearing before the City Council at its Nov. 13 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Police Division building.

This summer, the Tribe applied to the BIA to consider placing in a trust three parcels of land totaling about 56 acres, located along Southeast North Bend Way near Interstate 90's Exit 27. According to a BIA letter dated July 12, the Tribe plans to build a casino on the site.

The two largest parcels, which total about 55 acres, are owned by Snoqualmie Hills Joint Venture. Sheila Barker, who lives on 378th Avenue Southeast, owns the third parcel, which is an acre.

The land lies in the city's urban growth boundary and is zoned urban reserve. Together, the three parcels have been appraised at more than $1.3 million.

After the Valley Record published a story about the application to the BIA on Sept. 6, Barker said she was told the Tribe was not interested in her property.

Stephen Walker, managing director of Seattle-based Heartland Real Estate Inc., a partner in Snoqualmie Hills Joint Venture, confirmed that the Tribe has discussed buying the two larger parcels.

"We've been talking with them on and off for about a year," he said.

Stanley Surridge, acting superintendent of the BIA's Puget Sound Agency in Everett, which will decide on the application, said before the land could be placed in a trust, the Tribe must first acquire it.

Snoqualmie Hills Joint Venture has owned the two parcels since 1991. Another parcel owned by the joint venture - 37 acres near the old winery site, south of I-90 - became part of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust last year.

Walker said his company had planned to build a residential development on the two parcels, and had talked with Snoqualmie city officials about possibly annexing the land.

Snoqualmie Tribe Councilman Ray Mullen was in a staff meeting Tuesday morning and was not able to return a call to the Valley Record before its publication deadline, but in an earlier interview he said the application to the BIA was part of an ongoing effort to find land that would be suitable for the Tribe's growing administrative staff, which currently uses a small office in Fall City.

He said the Tribe would likely consider building a casino, but the needs of tribal members would come first.

"We're going to do whatever's good for the people," he said in September.

Reps. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, and Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, say they are troubled with how the BIA and Gov. Gary Locke's Office of Indian Affairs informed them of the Tribe's application.

In a column that appeared in the Oct. 25 edition of the Valley Record, Pflug said the BIA notified the Office of Indian Affairs of the application, but that agency failed to pass along the information in a timely matter to 5th District legislators.

Anderson, in an Oct. 16 letter to Kimberly Craven of the governor's Office of Indian Affairs, said the delay in notifying him of the application prohibited those who would be affected by the proposal from commenting on it.

"Your letter, which included BIA's initial notice, was dated Sept. 13, 2001. This was a full 59 days after BIA's July 12, 2001, notification to your office.

"This delay in receiving the Bureau of Indian Affairs' information cost my constituency any opportunity to participate in the 30-day comment period."

Pflug, likewise, said more people should have been told of the application.

"A comment period that the public doesn't know about is not a comment period," she said.

Anderson said as a good neighbor, the Tribe should have discussed the proposal with local residents before submitting its application to the BIA. He acknowledged that as a federally recognized tribe, the Snoqualmies have a right to be reinvested in land, but the idea of a casino in the Valley might not be acceptable to everyone.

"The idea of a neon casino with a huge parking lot is not necessarily my idea of what it compatible with our quality of life here in the Valley," he said.

Pflug agreed, saying, "I'm not aware of very many casinos that are inconspicuous."

In her column, Pflug stated the Tribe was already engaged in creating an environmental impact statement (EIS), which would detail how the land in question would be affected by development and any mitigation needed to offset that development.

She added once the EIS is submitted to the BIA's Puget Sound Agency in Everett, there would be a 30-day comment period for people to give their opinions on the document.

However, Surridge said he was not aware of the Tribe starting the EIS process.

"We have not seen anything yet," he said.

He added that the Tribe could be conducting an environmental assessment, which analyzes the vegetation, soils, wildlife and any rivers or streams that are found on the land.

Once that is completed, he said, "There'll be other opportunities for folks to comment on the environmental documents when those are presented [to the BIA]."

If the BIA signs off on the Snoqualmie Tribe's application, it would go to Interior Secretary Gale Norton for final approval.

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

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