County, tribe try to resolve land dispute


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 arguments.

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 said.

“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.



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