Colville Business Council hosts Joel Kretz, Shelly Short and Jacquelin Maycumber, Oct. 10
NESPELEM - The Colville Business Council hosted Washington State Rep. Joel Kretz (R-7th), state Sen. Shelly Short (R-5th) and state Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R-5th) in Colville Business Council Chambers, Oct. 10 bringing together political leaders from both sides of the reservation boundaries.
The visit, which came as the final item on the CBC Tribal Government Committee Agenda, lasted just under an hour, and in it, CBC thanked the group of eastern Washington legislators for their work in the previous Washington legislative session and further discussed priorities for upcoming sessions.
For their part, the legislators thanked the tribal council for the meeting.
“I think we gain more, especially with rural communities, the more we stand together,” said Short, in answering a call from CBC to coordinate efforts in Olympia.
“I think we need to start earlier on things with better coordination,” said Kretz. “This is a pretty good start here today… It helps if we can build the groundwork way ahead going in. I think it’s a great idea for us to meet more often. We’ll always pick up the phone. If you get over there, we’ll always get you in no matter how busy we are, but if we know sooner what the priorities are, we can have more time when you are over there.”
CBC member Jack Ferguson thanked the group for their help in securing $4.5 million from the Washington State Capital Budget Plan for the planned construction of the Colville Tribal Substance Abuse Treatment Facility this year.
“I’d like to thank all of you for the support you gave us for the Capital Budget,” said Ferguson. “I wish we had our treatment facility started so you guys could have been a part of that today, but unfortunately, we had to change contractors midstream, but I think I speak for the whole Colville Tribe in thanking you for that support.”
CBC further highlighted the group’s support in SB- 1564, which has allowed the Colville Tribes to negotiate an enhanced rate encounter rate for the Colville Tribal Convalescent Center.
“I just want you to understand how that impacts the Colville Tribes,” said CBC member Janet Nicholson. “The Tribe was getting an encounter rate of $169, and that’s because the Affordable Care Act requires that. The federal gives to the state, the state gave it to the tribe. When I came on, they said we had the opportunity to negotiate a higher encounter rate, but we had to get Washington legislation passed before we could modify that federal rate.”
The law was signed May 8, and on May 10 the Colville Tribes submitted their negotiated rate to the federal government. After a 90-day comment period, the new rate was approved on Sep. 23, according to Nicholson.
“What that means to us fiscally is that now we will receive from the Feds for our Convalescent Center $3 million [annually with the new rate],” said Nicholson. “So that will offset from the Colville Tribes $3 million … We couldn’t have done that without your support.”
Along with the enhanced encounter rate, the tribes have negotiated a new convalescent center, said Nicholson.
Moving forward, Nicholson noted the Colville Tribes’ pursuit to build a new tribal clinic in Omak, and she further asked for support in seeking financial support for the project from the state.
Congressional leaders signed a letter Oct. 11 issuing their support for a new Omak clinic, and Nicholson further noted the tribes had issued a pre-application to the IHS Joint Venture Construction Program for the project.
CBC member Darnell Sam provided an update on the tribes’ work toward fish passage over Chief Joseph Dam and Grand Coulee Dam in 2019, noting lobbying efforts in Olympia and Washington D.C., cultural releases of Chinook salmon into Rufus Woods and Lake Roosevelt and the Whooshh System demonstration that proved the technology’s ability to move salmon over Chief Joseph Dam.
“We hope that you would support us in our efforts to continue to work toward fish passage,” said Sam. “We know it can be an economic benefit for everybody. If you look at the Wells Reach on the Columbia River, that’s a pretty popular fishing spot. If there are fish in Rufus Woods or Lake Roosevelt, it’s a very viable resource, but spiritually, culturally, I don’t think we need to express how connected we are to our foods.”
Through budget provisos in 2019, the Colville Tribes received $500,000 to improve hatchery operations at the Colville Tribes’ Chief Joseph Hatchery and $540,000 to study salmon passage over Chief Joseph Dam.
Kretz called fish passage “a tremendous project,” but noted he was worried about increased regulations in the region.
“The one concern I’ve got, and we haven’t met it yet, is putting endangered species over the dam creates a whole set of problems upriver,” said Kretz. “We’ve had those wars in Okanogan County. We don’t need them in all the other counties … We have a lot of fish that could be going over with no problems, but I’d like to see some language making that ironclad that if endangered species goes over they’re considered an experimental population or something like that. I think you guys realize the ESA issues on all kinds of species in this area, and I don’t think we need another layer of those.”
Sam replied to note the tribe has worked around ESA listed salmon during their experimental work to date.
“As far as the ESA species perspective, we understand that, and I do appreciate you bringing that forward,” said Sam. “I want to reiterate when we did studies and fish passage, it wasn’t ESA listed species. We’ve been looking at hatchery fish right now. Still, that issue needs to be addressed.”
Ernie Rasmussen, Colville Tribal Planning, noted all three census tracts on the reservation - as well as the remainder of Ferry County and parts of Okanogan County - are defined as opportunity zones under the Investing in Opportunity Act, which Congress passed in 2017.
The act looks to bring private investment in low-income communities in exchange for capital gain tax incentives, however there is no social impact reporting requirement in the legislation, which sees that most of the investments are in favor of the investor rather than the community, Rasmussen told the group.
“The investors are seeking out, as they would, the lowest hanging fruit, the most ripe communities that are going to offer the highest return on investment,” said Rasmussen. “It’s a challenge … to find ways to prove to be attractive to investors.”
To appeal more to investors through the program, the Colville Tribes, Ferry County, Okanogan County and the North Central Washington Economic Development District has created a collaborative called the North Star Opportunity Zone, according to Rasmussen.
“It is unique in its structure and its willingness to work beyond political and geographic boundaries to lift these communities up and pool our resources,” he said.
In 2019, Rep. Maycumber wrote and had passed a state opportunity zone act, mirroring the federal law.
“The language on the bill that passed the state, do you feel that can benefit and fill in the gaps that are on the federal side?” asked Maycumber.
“I haven’t seen that take root yet,” responded Rasmussen.
“If we go back to review it, can you bring what is lacking on the federal side and maybe we can bring it to implement it on the stateside to seek those benefits?” asked Maycumber. “We already passed it. It was signed into law. Now we just have to make sure we implement it, where that missing piece is.”
Tribal CIO Sanjay Saggere provided an update on broadband across the reservation.
In 2019, the state legislature passed a bill focusing on rural broadband, but Saggere asked about definitions in the bill related to funding opportunities.
“A small community near Olympia would be Tenino,” said Saggere. “That is 15 miles to Olympia, a big city. It is next to I-5, which is a corridor, so when they apply for a grant [and when the Colville Tribes apply for the same grant], we do not rank high on that list because our cost would be seen higher.”
Saggere further continued to ask the legislators for support related to FCC mapping of the reservation and future broadband.