Ferndale to consider deal that would end land dispute with Lummi Nation

Published: May 13, 2013


FERNDALE – City officials and Lummi Nation are pursuing an agreement to protect the city’s tax revenue and the tribe’s interest in properties it owns at the south city limits.

The City Council will decide whether to accept the agreement at a special meeting, 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at 5694 Second Ave.

A draft of the agreement, posted Monday, May 13, on the city website, said the tribe would sell the western lots on land it owns along Slater Road west of Interstate 5. The tribe would receive 25 percent of the city’s share of sales tax revenue from those lots, which are on the southwest corner of Slater and Rural Avenue.

The city also would support the tribe’s application for trust status on the remaining properties. No property tax is paid on trust lands, and development on such land is not bound by state or local environmental rules.

In return, the tribe would agree to not purchase or apply for trust status on other land within the city limits, in order to protect the city’s property-tax base.

Lummis move to get trust land status worries local governments


Updated: Feb. 1, 2013 at 6:01 p.m. PST


FERNDALE – Whatcom County and the city of Ferndale have written letters to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs opposing Lummi Nation’s move to get trust land designation for an 80-acre site south of Slater Road and west of Interstate 5.

The land had been mentioned as a possible site for both a new county jail and a new Costco store before the tribe acquired it from Ralph Black and family for a reported $5.4 million in late 2011. Ten of the 80 acres are inside the Ferndale city limits, while the remainder is within Bellingham’s legally designated urban growth area. That means it is earmarked for eventual Bellingham annexation.

Tribal trust designation would move the parcel out of city, county and state jurisdiction and take it off property tax rolls.

In his letter to BIA Northwest Regional Director Stanley Speaks in Portland, Ore., Ferndale City Administrator Greg Young notes that in 2006 Ferndale supported Lummi Nation’s earlier move of 3.78 acres into trust status for construction of the tribe’s Gateway Center. The city threw its support behind the tribe’s plans after working out a deal to compensate the city for loss of tax revenue, making an annual payment to the city that is meant to be roughly equivalent to the taxes that would otherwise have been collected without the trust land designation.

Young’s letter says recent negotiations with Lummi over the 80-acre parcel have not borne fruit, and he expresses concern that more transfers of land into trust status could follow.

“While we supported this prior trust conversion and appreciated the Lummis’ desire to have direct freeway exposure, we are now extremely concerned over what may become a pattern of slow but continuous removal of essential land from Ferndale – as you may be aware, not only have the Lummis purchased this 80-acre site, they hold purchase options on additional property in this area. Apparently they have adopted a strategy of land purchase, trust conversion, and development in this area – leading to direct and unavoidable harm to the city of Ferndale.”

Young’s letter also suggests that Lummi Nation may be hoping to imitate the Tulalip Tribes’ big commercial development along Interstate 5 in Marysville.

“It is understandable that the leaders of the Lummi Nation want to mimic the development success of the Tulalip Tribes to the south, but this should not be accomplished and coupled with perpetual harm to the city of Ferndale,” Young wrote.

The Whatcom County Council approved a letter of opposition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs after discussing the matter in a closed session on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

“There is no information regarding the proposed use or development,” says the letter, signed by County Executive Jack Louws and County Council chairwoman Kathy Kershner. “Nor has the Nation consulted with Whatcom County or entered into any agreements regarding the use of the land with any of the three impacted jurisdictions.”

In her own letter to Speaks at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville does not flatly oppose tribal trust land status.

“The City of Bellingham values its relationship with the Lummi Nation and is confident that, if given an opportunity, the concerns can be addressed through a government-to-government agreement that respects the self-determination of the Lummi Nation,” the letter says. “However, we believe these issues need to be addressed prior to a determination on the (trust) application.”

Linville’s letter states that the impact on the city goes far beyond the 70-acre section of Lummi Nation property that is inside the city’s urban growth area: Another 445 acres in the growth area would be cut off from the city if the 71-acre section is converted to trust status and cannot be annexed by the city.

Those 445 acres are industrially zoned.

“Bellingham has a shortage of industrial-zoned parcels that are sufficient in size and unencumbered by wetlands,” Linville’s letter says. “Conversion of the subject property to trust status would significantly erode Bellingham’s future industrial land base.”

In a later interview, Ferndale’s Young said as he understands it, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ regional director has the discretion to approve trust status to the Lummi land, with or without the approval of local governments. But the local governments could appeal that approval, if it comes, to the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.

In his talks with Lummi officials, Young said he got the impression that the tribe may not yet have definite plans for the property.

Linville said she got the same impression during a Thursday, Jan. 31, phone conversation with Lummi chairman Tim Ballew.

“He restated that the tribe didn’t have any plans,” Linville said. “There were no details to give me.”

Linville also agreed that the city and other local governments have a right to comment, but the BIA can give the property trust status despite local objections.

Linville said she told Ballew she would like to work with the tribe to find a mutually beneficial approach to development of the tribe’s property.

Lummi Nation and the BIA did not respond to requests for comment.


Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/02/04/2458700/lummis-move-to-get-trust-land.html#storylink=cpy

Spokane commissioners oppose tribal project

Originally published Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Associated Press

Spokane County commissioners, freed from an agreement that previously prevented them from commenting, have passed a resolution opposing the Spokane Tribe’s plan to build a big casino complex at Airway Heights, near Fairchild Air Force Base.

 SPOKANE, Wash. —

Spokane County commissioners, freed from an agreement that previously prevented them from commenting, have passed a resolution opposing the Spokane Tribe’s plan to build a big casino complex at Airway Heights, near Fairchild Air Force Base.

The commissioners on Tuesday afternoon voted unanimously to oppose the project in large part because they fear it could imperil the future of the base, which is Spokane County’s largest employer.

“We are literally being asked to gamble the 5,000 current jobs provided by Fairchild on a project that may provide significantly fewer than that,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said in a news release. “If we guess wrong, it will take decades for this community to recover.”

Air Force base officials have not taken a position on the casino, which would be about a mile from the base.

Leaders of the Spokane Tribe didn’t immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

The Spokane Tribe is seeking rare federal approval to build the casino in the city of Airway Heights, miles from the boundaries of its reservation. A decision is expected in the next 45 days.

The project is opposed by the Kalispel Tribe, which already has a large and successful casino in Airway Heights.

In 2010, the city of Airway Heights reached an agreement with Spokane County commissioners in which the commissioners would remain silent on the proposed casino in exchange for payments to the county of $120,000 a year from casino revenues to deal with impacts. But the two county commissioners who supported that deal have since left, and the new commissioners threatened to sue if the agreement was not torn up.

The city of Airway Heights released the county from the agreement last week, and county commissioners wasted little time in voicing their opposition. The commissioners’ position will be sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state of Washington, which all must approve any proposal for off-reservation gambling by the Spokane Tribe.

Casino supporters say the project will provide revenues to lift many members of the Spokane Tribe out of poverty, and provide some 1,200 jobs in the region.

But opponents, including many Spokane area political and business leaders, worry the proposed casino is too close to the base and may prompt the Air Force to restrict operations or even close the base in the future because of encroachment issues.

Airway Heights continues to support the casino project.