The tension began last summer when the City of Snoqualmie began construction of the long-planned Tokul Roundabout near Snoqualmie Falls, which facilitates a Salish Lodge expansion and future 175-home development by the Muckelshoot Tribe on land the Snoqualmie Tribe says is sacred.
Now there is a new twist to the tension-filled relationship, this time over sewer service to the Tribe’s popular Snoqualmie Casino. The Snoqualmie Tribe says the city’s decision to end sewer service on November 30, 2016 has [in part] resulted in the filing of a federal ‘intentional race discrimination’ lawsuit.
On December 9, 2015 The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe announced via press release that they had filed a federal lawsuit accusing City of Snoqualmie leaders of “intentional race discrimination” against the Tribe.
The release explained at issue is a October 2015 Snoqualmie City Council decision to discontinue sewer services to the Casino, which the largest employer in the Snoqualmie Valley.
In 2004, prior to Snoqualmie Casino construction and its opening in November 2008, the Tribe entered into an agreement with the City of Snoqualmie to provide sewer, fire and EMS services to the casino, which is located outside the city limits, but within Snoqualmie’s UGA (Urban Growth Area).
The Tribe does not operate its own wastewater treatment facility and said the Urban Growth Management Act and King County code prohibits public sewer services from crossing rural areas or natural resource lands, limiting its ability to [possibly] contract with the next closest city – North Bend.
According to the lawsuit, the Services Agreement states the City could suspend sewer services only in the event the Tribe is more than 30 days past due on any required payment, which the Tribe states it is not.
The initial terms of the agreement were scheduled to expire seven years after the opening of the Casino (so November 2015), but a key agreement provision allowed both parties to meet before that expiration and amend the agreement going forward – before it “would automatically renew for five successive additional periods of seven years” until 2043.
According to the lawsuit, discussions about extending the agreement began in 2013 and by 2015 “both the Tribe and the City indicated concerns with the status quo agreement.”
This past July the two parties met, with the Tribe wanting to amend the agreement to extend the current terms by one year (while pursuing a long-term solution for sewer service), and the city wanting to amend portions of the agreement pertaining to allocation of impact mitigation fund dollars.
The lawsuit states the two parties put forth amendments to the agreement, with the city agreeing to the Tribe’s one-year extension of the agreement’s original terms, but also wanting the ability to “obtain greater money from the impact mitigation fund.”
The Tribe rejected the city’s extension version, explaining in the lawsuit that as part of the original agreement, the Tribe already pays $100,000 each year to be used for human services funding in Snoqualmie. It explained in 2014 the casino’s sewer rates were also raised to “out of city” rates – so with the higher rate and the continued $100,000 for human services funding, the Tribe pressed for an extension of just the original terms.
According to the lawsuit, on October 15, 2015, the city did sign the Tribe’s version of the one-year amendment extension, but accompanying the signed extension was a letter notifying the Tribe that the Snoqualmie City Council had voted to end sewer services to the casino on November 30, 2016 – when the one-year extension was up.
The letter stated that a majority of the council agreed “the provision of City services to the Tribe should come to an end” and the city was committed to the one-year extension so that “transition to other services can be arranged” for the casino. The lawsuit also states in early November the city submitted a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs saying it had notified the Tribe that it no longer wishes to be in a business relationship.
The Tribe’s 19-page lawsuit details several actions it deems discrimination by Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson, members of the Snoqualmie City Council and other City leaders.
Fire, EMS Moved to Eastside Fire & Rescue
The lawsuit also claims City leaders intentionally interfered with the Tribe’s efforts to “ensure uninterrupted fire and EMS services” after the City Council voted to stop providing those services to the Snoqualmie Casino. The Tribe has since reached an agreement with Eastside Fire & Rescue.
A city spokesperson stated via email that per the services agreement, the Tribe can terminate the fire and EMS portion of the agreement, but only with one-year’s prior written notice. The Tribe recently sent the City a letter attempting to terminate the fire and EMS portion of the Services Agreement at the end 2015 – with less than two months’ notice.
The city stated as it did not terminate the original Services Agreement, but agreed to extend it until November 30, 2016, it invoiced the Tribe for fire and EMS services through the terms of the agreement, or through November 2016. According to the city they have only received payment through December 2015.
The city said the Tribe’s new Eastside Fire and Rescue service agreement also states the Tribe “shall continue to pay the City of Snoqualmie in accordance with such agreement any compensation or amounts due and owning under such agreement.”
Limited Sewer Service Options
In the lawsuit the Snoqualmie Tribe states one year is not enough time to build its own wastewater treatment facility and laws and codes restrict it from contracting with North Bend. It goes on to claim that even if either option was a possibility, the city would oppose them. The Tribe contends that the City of Snoqualmie is “trying to choke out the Tribe on the basis of race.”
The Tribe’s press release says, “Without sewer services, the Casino will be forced to close indefinitely, threatening the Tribe’s ability to offer core governmental programs and services to its Tribal members, jeopardizing business relationships upon which the Tribe depends, and risking the jobs of 1200 employees.”
On Friday, December 11, 2015, the City of Snoqualmie said it was not in a position to comment on the intentional race discrimination accusations because although the Tribe had released its lawsuit publicly via a press release, the city had not yet been served.
On Tuesday, December 15th, the City of Snoqualmie released statements denying the Tribe’s claims detailed in the lawsuit. You can read the response HERE.