MARQUETTE - The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community said it is appalled by Gov. Rick Snyder's decision to oppose the relocation of one of its casinos to the old Marquette County Airport.
The KBIC was looking to move its Ojibwa II Casino in Chocolay Township to the former airport site in Negaunee Township. Snyder rejected the proposal Tuesday, which was the deadline for him to act on it.
The U.S. Department of the Interior approved the proposal in late 2011. The governor's consent would have allowed the Interior Department to acquire the land in trust for the tribe's gaming purposes.
According to a press release from the KBIC, the tribe has been working on the project to move the casino for 15 years. Then in 2000, then Gov. John Engler signed an agreement with KBIC to relocate the casino to the airport parcel.
"Since that time, KBIC has worked with the federal government and local units of government completing the necessary process and getting their consent for the move," the press release said. "All the parties agreed that relocation of the casino would be in the best interests of the surrounding communities and KBIC."
In a consent judgment on Feb. 2, 2000, made in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, it was found that the moving the casino from its current location to the airport parcel is likely in the best interest of the KBIC and its members and is not detrimental to the surrounding community.
Under federal law, all that remained for the relocation was for Snyder to concur with the federal government's findings that a gaming establishment on newly acquired lands would be in the best interest of the Indian tribe and its members and gaming on the newly acquired lands would not be detrimental to the surrounding community, according to the KBIC.
The KBIC also said it finds it appalling that Snyder's letter to the federal government declining to concur fails to address the only two allowable issues for his consideration.
The letter stated that Snyder attempted to enter into negotiations with the tribe, looking to "reach an agreement that would benefit the tribe, the local community, and the state." One of the issues Snyder hoped to address was the tribe considering taking property along U.S. 41 into trust for the purpose of selling tax-free gasoline.
In January, a letter sent by Snyder's legal counsel to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Michigan Agency stated that the gas station may be "unlawful" and could provide "an unfair commercial advantage over surrounding competitors."
According the KBIC, tribal representatives had a brief meeting with Snyder that was unproductive. The KBIC also said it invited Snyder to come to the Upper Peninsula to discuss the issue, but was never taken up on its offer.
The KBIC said it believes the real issue is that Michigan is considering legislation to expand the state lottery to allow for online gaming. If the state passes these provisions, KBIC could withhold its revenue sharing payment under the current gaming agreement.
"Governor Snyder wanted to use the transfer of the Marquette Casino as leverage to force KBIC to continue to make payments despite expanded state gaming in violation of the gaming agreement," said the KBIC in a press release. "The governor is more concerned about payments to Lansing than creating jobs here and benefiting local units of government."
The KBIC said it is asking that Snyder do what was required of him and give due consideration to the only two allowable issues and the voices of the local governments that moving the Marquette casino from Chocolay Township to the former airport property is in the best interests of the state, its citizens and the tribe.
"While Governor Snyder states that he has 'significant concerns with the tribe's conduct,' KBIC is concerned about the conduct of a governor who refuses to uphold the agreements of the Office of the Governor of the State of Michigan," KBIC said.
Payments amounting to 2 percent of gaming revenues are made each May and November to local units of government. According to the KBIC, local units of government have a wide range of control as to how the money is awarded. Distribution for the period from Oct. 1, 2012, through March 30 for Marquette County, which was made from the Ojibwa II Casino, was $161,435.40.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.