Spokane Tribe study finds no impact to Fairchild
A new private study released last week concluded that the Spokane Tribe Economic Project (STEP) wouldn’t have an impact on Fairchild Air Force Base.
Madison Government Affairs, based out of Washington, D.C., produced the study, which was funded by the tribe.
STEP is a multi-use project on tribal trust property located northeast of Fairchild. Included in the design plans are a casino, hotel resort, big box retail space and various other operations. Local organizations, including Greater Spokane Incorporated, Citizens Against Casino Expansion and the Board of Spokane County Commissioners, have come out against the project due to potential encroachment on the air base.
Now, there are only two signatures that control the fate of STEP.
The final draft of the Environmental Impact Statement closed its comment period May 1, and is now in the hands of Kevin Washburn, the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior. If approved, it will then go to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who will have up to a year to make a decision. The Madison study was included in the final EIS draft.
Spokane Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone said there were concerns that came up during the draft EIS, but were related to a mobile home park in Airway Heights. That area resides in one of the Accident Potential Zones leading up to Fairchild’s runway. Aside from that location, no other elements were cited as potential encroachment concerns.
“This report and the findings in it basically say that the STEP project, there is no encroachment, now or in the future,” he said. “The real encroachment that has been identified by the United States Air Force, and is coming out now, is the mobile home park.”
Critics have said, however, that the EIS didn’t factor in things like Spokane County’s Joint Land Use Study, which implements development regulations throughout the region.
Peone also said the Spokane Tribe has adopted its own version of JLUS.
“The Spokane Tribe has adopted our JLUS, which mirrors the most restrictive JLUS that has already been approved and accepted by Fairchild. So we have done that ourselves as well,” he said.
Peone said the tribe would offer its assistance to work with the mobile home park encroachment. Airway Heights has been moving to reduce the density in that area by partnering with local charities and non-profit groups to build affordable housing outside of the APZ.
Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said Inslee included $2.7 million to purchase land for the housing project, however the state House and Senate budgets didn’t include those funds. The mobile home park owners, he said, have told the city they’ll need to be bought out in order to prevent backfill.
Rushing reiterated that the program is voluntary and no one is being forced to vacate their property.
The STEP full buildout is projected to bring 5,000 jobs to the region. At the press conference, Rushing said that number is likely on the lower end of the spectrum. He said between STEP, the 300-plus acres of land left for the Kalispel Tribe to develop and the nearly 1,000 acres of developable land in Airway Heights, vast job growth is on the horizon.
“You could realistically see 15,000 jobs within the next 10 years,” he said.
Unemployment rates in the tribe are around 50 percent and at 12.9 percent in Airway Heights.
James Eik can be reached at email@example.com.