12/14/2016 9:03:00 AM Swinomish reservation expansion plan draws county ire
Skagit County has objected to a request by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to turn an Anacortes gas station into reservation land. Swinomish purchased the Shell gas station on Christianson Road in Anacortes for $1 million in May, according to county records. It is located across the street from the tribe’s Swinomish Links golf course and is more than a mile west of the Swinomish Reservation. Late last month the county was notified that Swinomish had applied to the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs to put the Shell station into trust for the tribe. When that happens, property is taken off the tax rolls. This year the tribe paid $5,228.95 in property tax for the gas station, which the county valued at about $525,000. The objection letter from County Prosecuting Attorney Richard A. Weyrich and signed by civil deputy Will Honea states that the federal agency failed to provide the county with a copy of the tribe’s application and noted that several agencies providing public services, including schools, would be adversely affected. The letter also noted that the gas station is a half mile from 15 acres that the Samish Indian Nation owns and has been trying to have placed into trust. The letter suggested this could be part of a Swinomish effort to thwart the Samish Tribe’s hope of developing a casino on Highway 20. A main objection, however, is that taking property off the tax rolls shifts the tax burden to a “declining number of non-Indian landowners,” the letter stated. Skagit County takes no issue with a Swinomish application to put another 373 acres it purchased into trust. That land lies within the boundaries of the reservation and was an old real estate development that never materialized. The tribe paid more than $2,700 in taxes on that “fee simple” property this year. “The county’s policy is we do not object when tribes bring land into trust within their reservation boundaries,” Honea said. “When they’re operating outside their reservation as business entities, we believe they should pay taxes like everyone else to support our schools.” Honea pointed out that the Upper Skagit Tribe owns several commercial parcels in the county, including its fisheries facility on the south end of La Conner’s waterfront, and continues to pay property tax. And Samish has forged agreements with agencies to help pay for public services at the same level of taxes. “There is an emerging consensus that tribes should contribute to the civilizational infrastructure like everyone else,” Honea said. This news broke late yesterday and Swinomish officials could not be reached for comment.