Mark Cushing, an attorney representing Tom and Chris Maletis, has been directly involved in the discussions with the Klamath Tribes. He said negotiations with the tribes are nearly complete and he anticipates the BIA application will be filed in March.
This is the first time any Maletis representative has put a timeline on when the application will be filed.
The Klamath Tribes, whose reservation is near Chiloquin in southern Oregon, have been talking with the Maletis family for nearly six years.
They have planned to put 385 acres of "exclusive farm use" property near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 551 into trust so it can be developed at some point.
Rumors that the tribes plan to place a casino on the property continue to be denied by both by Klamath leadership and Maletis representatives.
First, the Klamath Tribes must use the Klamath Restoration Act to acquire the property — a process that would have to run through the BIA and would exempt the property from local or state land use laws.
Cushing said a national expert in American Indian law advised him that once an application is filed for industrial development, the Klamaths will not be allowed to switch their application to build a casino without going through a full community process and garnering support from the governor. A report about the legal findings will be released soon, he said.
Wilsonville letter appeals to Sen. Merkley
Cushing's comments come on the heels of a letter from Mayor Tim Knapp to Sen. Jeff Merkley, posing questions about the plans by both the Klamath Tribes and the Maletis brothers.
In the letter, dated Jan. 4, and e-mailed Feb. 2 to cities around the property, Knapp asks Merkley to "look into this matter of how the BIA interprets the Klamath Restoration Act and if any remedies by Congress might be appropriate."
The letter also outlines the problems with placing the trust near Wilsonville and how, if it is allowed, it could set a dangerous precedent for other areas around the country.
Mark Ottenad, the city's public and governmental affairs director, sent the Wilsonville letter to the cities of Aurora, Canby, Donald, Hubbard, St. Paul and Woodburn. In addition he also contacted Clackamas and Marion counties about the letter.
"We sent the letter out because we want to try to help our regional partners recognize the issues that would arise if this reading of the act is allowed," Knapp said Thursday. "We have been working on this issue quite a bit, and want to keep people informed."
Cushing said his clients were not notified of the letter, or that other communities in the area were considering taking a position on the issue.
"The city of Wilsonville seems determined to challenge the right and the interests of the Klamath Tribe to develop its own economic opportunities outside the small section of Klamath County the tribe operates in now," Cushing said. "I find it curious that a small city in the northern Willamette Valley is now claiming to be somewhat of an expert on the rights or privileges of the Klamath Tribe. The irony is that no city more than Wilsonville will benefit from the manufacturing and commercial jobs that will be developed on the project at Langdon Farms if we go forward as both the Maletis brothers and the Klamath intend to go forward."
The Maletis family recently hired Portland-based public relations firm Hubbell Communications, whose clients include the Portland Business Alliance, Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, Louisiana Pacific, The Papé Group, Warn, AT&T and the American Health Care Association.
Ward Hubbell, president of the PR firm, said last week that he is contacting all of the cities surrounding Landgon Farm, to offer them an informational meeting about the proposals for the property.
"We absolutely intend to contact each of the cities considering a letter," said Hubbell, president of the PR firm. "We have not heard from any of those cities, so I am making calls to see if they want to talk with us."
Region considering options
Greg Leo coordinates the French Prairie Forum, a group of regional city representatives who meet monthly to discuss issues that impact the area. He said the Wilsonville letter came from discussion within the group.
"This has been a topic for a long time obviously and this is something that came out of those meetings," said Leo, who also acts as a lobbyist for the city of Wilsonville.
Now, city and county officials from Salem to Donald are considering whether to sign the Wilsonville letter or craft language of their own.
Last week the Hubbard City Council opted to craft its own letter, with one city councilor saying he wouldn't sign off on the Wilsonville letter which he saw as "anti-growth and anti-business."
Marion County commissioners crafted a letter, dated Feb. 3, prompted by a Wilsonville e-mail, which asks Merkley for his assistance in "looking into this matter of how the BIA interprets the act and if any remedies by Congress might be appropriate."
Canby Mayor Melody Thompson said last week her council has discussed the Wilsonville letter, but at this point hasn't decided what to do.
"The Maletises have said they don't want a casino there, but even with industrial development that is focused on eco-solar jobs there would still be a significant impact on the intersection and traffic flow which concerns us," Thompson said. "There are a number of issues that we want to look into and will probably write our own letter at this point."
She said Hubbell had contacted her, but she had no plans to hear a presentation.
Donald also is considering writing a letter, but at this point it hasn't come up at a city council meeting, said City Manager Janet Lane.
"(Mayor Todd Deaton) is still undecided and in discussions with other jurisdictions about this issue," Lane said. "I think we are going to be talking about this in the first part of March, but right now we haven't decided yet."
In Aurora, Mayor James Meirow said he welcomes a presentation from the Maletis' representatives, and that his council has yet to decide if it would write a letter to Merkley.
"The city of Aurora may do its own letter, but there is talk of a joint letter with other cities and communities," Meirow said. "We really want a determination of if the tribes could take that land into trust. We will probably craft something that reads more like the Marion County letter than the Wilsonville letter, which was stronger."
Cushing said as cities considered whether to contact the Congressional delegation, he is willing to contact them with information about plans for the property under the trust agreement with the Klamath Tribes.
"We would like to have a dialogue, and so we will pursue that over the next few weeks," he said. "We are not assuming that the all cities will take the view that a significant job development opportunity is a bad idea.”