All Politics is Local

The county council is no longer formally opposed to the casino, but one councilor has concerns

Jeanne Stewart makes her last stand against the Cowlitz casino.

Jeanne Stewart makes her last stand against the Cowlitz casino.

During the last regular Clark County Council meeting of the year, outgoing Republican Councilor Jeanne Stewart took one final stand against the ilani Casino Resort.

After years of legal battles with the county, the much-anticipated casino opened in 2017 and is expected to keep growing.

With it clear that the casino, owned and operated by the Cowlitz Tribe, isn’t going anywhere, a representative of the gambling establishment approached the county about rescinding a 2015 county resolution opposing it.

The resolution cites the possible effects on the Troutdale aquifer by the casino’s sewer system, as well as its impacts on housing, law enforcement and social services. Sharply worded at points, the resolution states that the “Cowlitz have failed to consider the individual and cumulative negative impacts of their proposed development on surrounding property” and that the project is in violation of Washington’s stringent land-use laws.

The county ended up on the losing end of this battle. A year after the resolution was passed, the tribe won a federal appeal that confirmed the legal status of the Cowlitz and cleared their path to move forward with the $510 million casino, located in north Clark County. Since then, the casino has become a fact on the ground. It opened last year to much fanfare and there are expansion plans in the works.

“I think just as a communication of goodwill and opportunity to continue to develop our relationship with the tribe, and ilani, I think this is a good move to consider for the council,” said Councilor Julie Olson of rescinding the ordinance.

But Stewart said that while the federal court decision stands there are still lingering issues with the casino.

“Rescinding it indicates that pretty much everything we did was wrong and everything that’s here now is okay and we have no further issues,” she said. “That may not be the case as we go down the road here.”

Specifically, she mentioned the injection wells used by the casino to dispose of effluent that the tribe could build more as the casino expands. She also raised an issue over the county right of way on a road near the casino that she said hasn’t been fully resolved.

“I can be a big boy and say, ‘I lost in court, so let’s move ahead,’” replied Chair Marc Boldt, who noted that the tribe has become a partner and another local government.

Olson said that county Public Works has been in contact with the tribe over the injection wells, which she said haven’t been an issue so far.

Quiring added that there is indeed “a little bit of offensive language” in the resolution specifically how it states that the casino would create a “significant adverse impacts on Clark County.”

In the end, the council voted for rescinding the resolution. Stewart was the only to vote against it.