In an interesting turn of events, a recommendation has been made to the county by Clark County’s public health officer to allow the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s $510 million casino to connect to La Center’s city sewer system; something the tribe wanted to do from the start.

However, due to a court ruling last year the tribe has had to come up with its own solution and since then has already completed 35 percent of the construction of wastewater injection wells, according to the tribe. The system injects wastewater that has been treated into the ground approximately 120 to 220 feet above the Troutdale Aquifer System that supplies drinking water to Clark County, Washington and is expected to cost the tribe almost $15 million. Now, Dr. Alan Melnick says that connecting the Cowlitz casino to the city sewer line is a public health necessity and “the safest thing to do,” according to The Columbian. Melnick was asked to provide analysis of the injection well project a month ago by Clark County council Chairman Marc Boldt. A formal recommendation will be given by Melnick at a meeting on Wednesday.

Last year the courts ruled that because the sewer line would be on the east side of I-5 and the Cowlitz casino is located on the west side of the Interstate, it is outside of what is considered La Center’s urban growth boundary line and therefore would violate the planning policies of Clark County. However, paragraph four of state law RCW 36.70A.110 offers an exception to that rule, which would enable the five county councilors on the county Board of Health to declare an emergency and the sewer connection allowed.

Despite the sudden about-face regarding the sewer connection, the county remains opposed to the Cowlitz casino project and is engaged in legal battles with the tribe, according to Boldt. When he was asked Thursday why a recommendation wasn’t requested sooner, Boldt said, “Really, we should have probably done it before. … I do realize this is probably at the 11th hour.”

Bill Iyall, the chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe, issued a statement (pdf) on Thursday saying that there is no doubt that they would have preferred to hook up to the city’s sewer system during the design phase of the project. However, due to repeated attempts by the city of Vancouver, Clark County, the owners and operators of La Center’s cardrooms, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, and Citizens Against Reservation Shopping, a group that includes Scott Campbell, a member of The Columbian’s (a Vancouver daily newspaper) editorial board, to block the tribe, that wasn’t possible. Iyall said that on two occasions La Center’s request to permit the casino hook up to its sewer system were turned down by the Growth Management Board, with the city receiving “a very clear negative ruling” from state Superior Court. He said, “At this phase of the project, a change in direction would become a decision for the Cowlitz Tribal Council’s Development Board.”

Information regarding the wastewater injection system will be provided by the tribe at a public information session it’s holding at the La Center Community Center on June 30. Depending on what the Cowlitz Tribal Council’s Development Board decides and if permission is granted to the tribe to use La Center’s water system, within a short period of time the infrastructure would be in place.

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