Many Indian tribes are land rich and cash poor. Not the Muckleshoots.
The 1,500-member tribe lives on a tiny 3,500-acre reservation between Seattle and Mount Rainier, and last year, its casino and bingo hall brought in an estimated $48 million.
For more than seven years, the tribe has been working on another moneymaker: the White River Amphitheater, with seating for more than 20,000 at up to 70 annual shows. Some nearby residents of King County would like to stop the development. Calling themselves Citizens for Safety & Environment, the group of several hundred is concerned about noise from concerts and the effect increased traffic might have on farming in one of the last agricultural districts in King County.
The last six to eight miles leading to the amphitheater are a two-lane agricultural road, says Janet Devlin, co-chair of the group, and because the area is part of the county's 20-year-old Farmland Preservation Act, the road can't be expanded.
The citizens met with little success until they sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs for an environmental impact statement, and won.
In April 1998, a U.S. district judge directed the federal agency to prepare an EIS. At that point, the amphitheater was about 40 percent complete. It still is.
In August, the citizens group got its draft EIS, and hired a consultant to critique the tribe's traffic management plan. The consultant has estimated that emptying the parking lot after a 15,000-person concert would take more than three hours. A sold-out concert would take even longer, Devlin says.
"That's not a fair estimate," says tribal lawyer Rob Otsea, and doesn't make business sense, besides. "If you know it's going to take three hours to exit a parking lot, you wouldn't go."
Otsea says they can keep other negative impacts cited in the draft EIS such as possible runoff, erosion and subsequent damage to fish habitat to tolerable levels as well. If state and federal officials agree, construction of the amphitheater could resume next spring, and the first concert could take place as soon as the spring of 2001.
Even if that happens, Devlin maintains the project is doomed to failure: "Opening an open-air amphitheater in western Washington is like investing in a tanning salon in Florida.
We had two weeks of summer this year, and some summers don't get above 68 degrees. We've always maintained that if they were to be successful and complete the project, that it will fail on its own." (High Country News, www.hcn.org, covers communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colo.)