Lake County commissioner responds to lawsuit filed by CSKT
The Lake County Commissioners were served summons in a lawsuit filed against them by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on May 24. The suit stems from sub-division approval given by the county this past spring to another defendant in the suit, Lori Lundeen, who owns 40 acres of fee land north of the Big Arm town site.
Lundeen proposed and was given approval for construction and development of a 60-lot recreational vehicle subdivision known as “Wild Horse RV Resort Subdivision.” Part of the proposed access to the subdivision is through a platted but undeveloped road in the Big Arm town site.
One of the conditions of approval of the subdivision by the County was that Lundeen was required to build a portion of the undeveloped road to county road standards. A contractor had begun work on the road but was stopped on May 13 when the CSKT took the law into their own hands by placing a gate on the road denying the contractor access to the subdivision.
Work stoppage inside the subdivision is also being requested by the injunction. The Tribes’ suit claims the roadwork is being done on Tribal trust land and the county has no regulatory authority over the road and should not have given approval to the subdivision.
Additionally, the suit asks for permanent action that would not allow the County to trespass on any Big Arm roads, streets or parks or give approval for the use of rights-of-way for utility installation. Inherently, it appears that the Tribes’ suit labels anyone using any of the roads, streets, alleys or public parks in Big Arm as trespassers on their land.
Short term, the suit would stop development of an RV resort that would provide competition for the Tribes’ newly constructed Big Arm Marina and Resort just below the Wild Horse RV resort. A substantial amount of money has been put into the Tribal facility, and stamping out any competition would be important to the success of the CSKT’s business venture.
More importantly, in the long term, obtaining control and jurisdiction over the roads, streets and parks in Big Arm would open up the possibility of the Tribes getting some level of jurisdiction over all public roads and streets abutting trust land within the confines of the reservation. Utility companies could be forced to pay significant dollars to the Tribes to provide public access to essential services, while the county would lose over $1 million of property tax revenue generated from centrally assessed properties.
Many of our county roads run across land that is bordered on one or both sides by Tribal trust land. If the Tribes’ claim that they have jurisdiction over roads and streets that are either partially or completely surrounded by trust land is verified, the entire landscape of regulatory authority over streets and roads fundamentally shifts. Trespassers could be denied use of roads and rights-of-way or be charged usage fees that would be determined by CSKT.
The question of providing maintenance to many roads would also need to be determined. Could the county and taxpayers be held responsible to maintain roads that they no longer control? The request for stoppage of construction on privately owned fee land is also disturbing. Jurisdiction and control of work being done on private land by Indian tribes would be an unsettling extension of control over much of the property in the county.
Lake County will vigorously oppose the lawsuit and feel that in the end the County will prevail, but CSKT has several lawyers assigned to this lawsuit and the county will be obligated to enlist outside legal help at taxpayer expense. The stakes are significant and ramifications of the Tribes’ claims extend far beyond the town site of Big Arm and even Lake County.