Despite pending lawsuits and more than a decade’s worth of legal battles, construction has begun on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s casino in Northwest Clark County in Washington.

However, Vancouver City Attorney Brent Boger called the project a “risk,” according to Koin 6 News. Boger, along with other city leaders filed a federal lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to place into trust for the Cowlitz Tribe approximately 152 acres west of La Center in Clark County, and permit gambling on that land. That suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein in Washington, D.C., on December 14, 2014.

Kara Fox-Larose, the casino’s general manager told KOIN, “When it’s all said and done, this site will be the home to a more than $500 million casino,” and, “We are building a 360,000 square foot entertainment and meeting facility which will include 2,500 slot machines, 80 table games, more than 15 bars, restaurants and retail.” According to Fox-Larose, once completed more than 1,000 people will be employed by the casino.

A huge undertaking, the project has met with challenges from property owners, card room businesses, the cities of Vancouver and La Center, as well as efforts by Clark County to stop the development altogether.

Boger and the City of Vancouver maintain the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 is only applicable to tribes that were under federal jurisdiction at that time. While the Cowlitz tribe didn’t receive federal recognition until 2000, Judge Rothstein called the statue’s wording ambiguous and sided with the tribe. Tribal Chairman Bill Iyal said, “We had a resounding dismissal of all the appeals prior to that and we expect that success in the next lawsuit.” Iyal is confident that the casino will be completed, but opposition from Boger and other opponents still looms. Boger pointed out potential downsides of the project including “impacts to our transportation system, impacts to affordable housing… gambling addicts, socioeconomic impacts,” according to the local news report. The tribe hopes the federal lawsuit will be resolved by the end of 2016, so that it will be able to open the casino by mid-2017.

Due to a seven year development agreement with Cowlitz Tribal Gaming Authority, the casino will be managed and developed by Salishan-Mohegan LLC. Within three to four years of the casino’s opening the tribe hopes the third phase which includes hotel construction can begin. Short term construction jobs will employ as many as 250 in the local area and by the time the casino opens between 800 and 1,200 people should have permanent casino jobs. A hiring agreement has been established between the tribe and local labor unions and it’s estimated that dealers will earn an average of $50,000 a year, in addition to benefits.

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