By Shane Cleveland
VBJ Staff Reporter
The Cowlitz Tribal Council today announced a Project Labor Agreement for the construction of its proposed casino at the La Center Interstate 5 interchange with the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council. The agreement guarantees the use of local contractors and workers.
John Mohlis, Columbia-Pacific president, said the council asked the tribe about a year ago if they were interested in using union labor and contractors. “The answer from them was a resounding yes,” he said.
Tribal Chairman John Barnett, an “old union man” himself, said the 700 tribal members in the region are strong union supporters.
“We are a landless tribe and we have fought hard for everything we have today,” he said. “As union people you know how that is.”
Mohlis said the agreement helps the area by employing local companies and labor who pay taxes and buy goods here. And Mohlis said union contractors are training-agents who employ apprentices that represent a well-trained workforce for the future.
The greatest benefit of the project, and a condition of awarding the contract, said Mohlis, is guaranteed benefits and healthcare for the workers and their families.
The Cowlitz said full build-out of the casino is expected to create 4,011 jobs with an average wage of $46,200 and a total annual payroll of $185.3 million.
Tribe spokesman David Barnett said the construction timeline is uncertain, but the project is expected to be built in phases. Dependent on regulatory approval, construction could begin by June 2007, said Barnett.
The tribe’s plans for the $510 million project include a 134,150-square-foot casino, an eight-story hotel with 250 rooms, restaurant and retail space, convention and entertainment venues, a tribal cultural center and government offices, parking structures and an RV park. The first phase would include the casino and parking facilities, followed by additional, undetermined phases, said Barnett.
A draft EIS is expected to be available for public comment within two months. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs could make a decision whether or not to grant the proposed 152-acre casino site as a reservation as early as mid-2006.