County again appeals status
of marina site
Skagit Valley Herald
Skagit County already has lost two appeals in its attempt to keep the
Swinomish Tribe from bringing 350 acres of reservation land into trust.
Last week, the county filed a third appeal, one officials hope will
succeed because it will be reviewed by a judge.
Meanwhile, county officials are meeting with tribal leaders today in
an attempt to settle the dispute.
At issue is a piece of land within the reservation on which the tribe
hopes to build a marina. The tribe already owns the land, but it has
asked the federal government to place it into trust. That status gives
the tribe more control of the land and removes it from the tax rolls.
The county’s appeal was denied twice by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs — first by a superintendent in Everett, then by a regional
director in Portland, Ore., who rejected all 14 of the county’s
The difference this time, said John Moffatt, the county’s chief
civil lawyer, is that it will be reviewed by an administrative law judge
in Washington, D.C., who doesn’t work for the bureau.
“The county expects to get a different level of review,” Moffatt
“I think all that will happen is the county will spend a
considerable amount of taxpayer money,” said Jamie Weber, a lawyer for
the Swinomish Tribe.
The county spent about $56,000 in the two previous appeals. This
appeal will be handled jointly by Moffatt and Bart Freedman, a lawyer
with the Seattle firm Preston, Gates and Ellis.
Both Weber and Moffatt said that as far as they knew, the Bureau of
Indian Affairs has never denied a tribe’s request to convert land
within a reservation to trust land.
A 1994 settlement in a lawsuit over the land between the Swinomish
Tribe and several private parties included a stipulation that the
federal government would transfer the land into trust.
Skagit County Commission Chair Don Munks said the county is concerned
about the impact of the development, although he declined to specify
what those impacts might be ahead of today’s meeting.
For 30 years, the tribe has been planning a marina with about 1,200
slips. The marina would encompass 240 acres of the property, historic
tidelands that currently are farmland.