U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear appeal on Cowlitz Casino case

LA CENTER — The legal battle over the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s mega casino complex near the La Center I-5 junction appears to be over.

On Mon., April 3, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a certiorari petition filed on behalf of the La Center card room owners, some of the last remaining opponents to the $510 million casino complex, unofficially scheduled to open April 24.

On Mon., April 3, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition filed on behalf of the La Center card room owners, some of the last remaining opponents to the $510 million casino complex, unofficially scheduled to open April 24. The decision brings an apparent end to the opposition to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s mega casino project near the La Center I-5 junction. Photo by Mike Schultz
On Mon., April 3, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition filed on behalf of the La Center card room owners, some of the last remaining opponents to the $510 million casino complex, unofficially scheduled to open April 24. The decision brings an apparent end to the opposition to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s mega casino project near the La Center I-5 junction. Photo by Mike Schultz

Clark County and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde withdrew from the case late last year. The city of Vancouver had previously dropped out of the appeal. In addition to the La Center card rooms, private neighboring landowners and the Citizens Against Reservation Shopping remained parties to the appeal of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 2015 decision that allowed the Cowlitz Tribe to take its 152 acres near the La Center junction into trust.

“We are delighted to learn of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to deny hearing an appeal by the card rooms in La Center,’’ said Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall in a press release. “This is a triumphant moment for The Cowlitz Indian Tribe because it marks the end of a 160-year journey back to our homeland, and the beginning of a new journey, where centuries of Cowlitz Tribal heritage and traditions will unite and thrive, here, on our own reservation. The Cowlitz, The Forever People, are forever home.”

John Bockmier, a Vancouver-based consultant who represents the La Center card rooms, acknowledged his clients may now be without other legal options.

“I don’t know what other legal options my clients would have,” Bockmier said. “We still believe in the principles that we fought for. We’re grateful to everyone in the community for all their support throughout the years. We’re obviously very disappointed in this decision and we’re going to do everything we can to make the remaining two card rooms (Last Frontier and The Palace) the No. 1 gaming options for our guests.”

Iyall, too, believed in the principles the Tribe was fighting for.

“We would like to thank Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for his continued support,’’ Iyall said. “He has continued to carry the torch in defense of our lands — an effort that has now carried through three presidential administrations. We will continue our commitment to be good partners and good neighbors. Now, in leading large-scale, privately-funded investments in economic growth, the Tribe looks forward to delivering on our commitments to our 4,100 members, employees and the community where we live and work.’’

The Cowlitz press release also stated that Tribe has just completed construction of – and on Tuesday evening will open – a $32-million fully-funded replacement of the Exit 16 interchange along I-5 at NW LaCenter Road.

“This project, which was completed on-budget and in record time, is a tribal investment to facilitate the growth the ilani Casino will bring to the area’s businesses and to enable La Center to accommodate planned development on both sides of the freeway,’’ read the release. “In addition, the city of La Center approved an agreement for the Tribe to fully fund the design and construction of a $5 million sewer line from the La Center wastewater treatment plant to the I-5 junction, which will enable further economic development at the interchange.’’

The Cowlitz Tribe reported that the ilani Casino is bringing more than 1,200 new jobs to southwest Washington and dozens of small business opportunities. The Tribe indicated “hundreds have been hired and trained. The entire Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area is already benefitting from ilani’s $40 million in annual spending on local goods and services. And when we open the facility this Spring, 2 percent of the net revenues from the facility will be invested back into arts and educations programs throughout our local community.’’

“The Cowlitz Tribe remains committed to partnering with the entire community to bring economic and job growth, environmental sustainability, and long-term transportation improvement to the greater Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area,’’ Iyall said in the release.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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