Cheney Free Press -

By Al Stover
Staff Reporter 

Second STEP opponent files

Spokane County Commissioners forward lawsuit against Department of Interior

 


The Spokane County Board of Commissioners have been longtime opponents of the Spokane Tribal Economic Project (STEP), and now it appears they are taking the battle to the court room.

The commissioners approved a resolution to file a lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Department of the Interior at its May 30 meeting. Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, the county’s Public Works information and outreach manager, explained the lawsuit is to appeal Interior’s June 2015 determination, issued by assistant secretary Kevin Washburn, which stated that STEP “would not be detrimental to the community, but will create employment and increase tribal public service programs on the Spokane Reservation.” Gov. Jay Inslee agreed with Interior’s decision and approved the project in July 2016.

The county commissioners argue that STEP will encroach on operations at Fairchild Air Force Base. According to the resolution, STEP’s development is located .8 miles from Fairchild’s runway, which presents immediate health hazards as well as the potential of a catastrophic event. The project also jeopardizes the viability of the base.

In 2013, the BIA published the West Plains Mixed-Use Development Final Environmental Impact Statement where it determined that STEP would not negatively affect Fairchild. The Federal Aviation Administration also released a study in December 2013, determining the project would not be a hazard to air navigation around the base. The United States Air Force also stated that STEP is compatible with Fairchild. The Interior Department has worked with the Spokane Tribe and the Air Force to establish procedures to mitigate any potential encroachment. According to the resolution, the impact statement did not accurately represent regulations the county enacted to protect Fairchild from encroachment.

In 2014, Spokane County Commissioners wrote a letter to the BIA, asking them to take a new look at possible negative impacts the project would have on Fairchild.

The county commissioners are not the first group to try and appeal Interior’s decision. In April, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians filed a lawsuit against Interior. The nature of the lawsuit is a review or appeal of an agency’s decision — specifically Interior’s decision to permit gaming on off-reservation Indian lands for STEP and approving the project’s environmental impact statement.

Al Stover can be reached at al@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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