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Tulalip Tribe declares building moratorium

MARYSVILLE, Wash. - The Tulalip Reservation on the Puget Sound north of Seattle is experiencing major growing pains. To handle the growth, the tribal council has declared a temporary moratorium on development on the reservation until the tribe can get a handle on potential environmental impacts.

A major bedroom community for Seattle, building starts in Marysville and on the Tulalip Reservation have exploded in recent years. Aging sewer, water and road services are failing under the increased demands. Single-family residence septic systems built 60 or more years ago are polluting the ground water, while new wells are being drilled every day.

Although both Snohomish County and the tribe have growth management acts, while the county barrels ahead with developments, the tribe has called a temporary halt to building.

"Boeing is still prosperous and we still have people moving in," says John McCoy, executive director of governmental affairs for the tribe. "There's a lot of people looking across the highway saying, 'Look at all that land that can be developed over there.'

"We still have trees. We're still pretty forested and it makes for a nice neighborhood setting. But we've got to control it."

The moratorium took Snohomish county officials by surprise.

The 11,500 acre Tulalip Reservation is home to 9,000 residents, 2,000 of them tribal members. For years the county and the tribe exchanged information on new building permits and worked together on environmental issues facing the reservation. County officials say whatever the tribe does with tribal land held in trust is up to the tribe. But, they argue that the tribe does not have jurisdiction over taxable land held in fee simple - even by tribal members.

"Snohomish County has always had jurisdiction over land-use activities on reservation, zoning government permit review," says John Roney, special projects coordinator in the Snohomish County's department of planning and development services. "We've encouraged people who are doing subdivisions or single-family building permits, to bring their applications to the tribe as well as their comments. And if there is something that we can work on in their concerns, we're more than happy to do it. But we can only do what our codes and regulations allow."

For the last 10 years the Tulalip Tribe has been active in purchasing land on the reservation. At this point it owns slightly more than 50 percent of the land on the reservation. McCoy says the tribe will continue to make purchases this year to increase its majority land holding.

"We've always said that we have jurisdiction over trust land," McCoy says. "But we also say that if it's tribal member, fee simple, that we have jurisdiction over it. And there's the rub.

"We have permitting processes and we feel our permitting process is just like Snohomish County's and our zoning codes and comprehensive plans are close enough in similarity that, what's the issue?"

The tribe is in litigation over who has jurisdiction over tribally held, fee-simple property on the reservation.

The county objects to the tribe's attempt to declare a moratorium over the entire reservation.

"We're under the mandates of the Growth Management Act. And the act, in essence, states that a jurisdiction can't just declare a moratorium. There are certain criteria that has to be established for a building moratorium to be placed," Roney says. "We've been waiting for that information and we don't have that yet from the tribe."

Roney says that once the county is supplied the information on the tribe's decision to declare a reservation-wide moratorium, it will be reviewed and brought up to the county council for a determination.

Barrett Schemanska, Tulalip community development manager, says the BIA informed the tribe in the early 1990s that if the tribe wanted to assert jurisdiction over all lands on the reservation, the tribe had to prepare a comprehensive land-use plan and a zoning code, following due process procedure.

In accordance with the BIA's advice, the tribe held public meetings and discussions with all residents of the reservation, Indian and non-Indian, between 1993 and 1995. A seven-member reservation planning commission was established with two seats reserved for non-Indian residents of the reservation.

A land use and zoning code was adopted and reviewed by the BIA legal staff and approved by the Department of Interior and went into effect January 1995.

"The next five to 10 years is a turning point for land development," says Schemanska. "The growth pressures here, the sprawl from Seattle, has created enormous growth pressures. The planning commission and the board will be challenged to regulate development in a way that's consistent with the tribal vision and the reservation's community's vision.

Schemanska says he is optimistic the board and the tribe's planning commission will be able to wade through the controversy and come up with a satisfactory solution "where the reservation is not turned into wall-to-wall houses with pavement and strip malls."

"Hopefully there will be an opportunity to work out a relationship with the county where the tribe does retain jurisdiction over tribal members on fee simple land and the county's concerns are addressed," Schemanska says.