Michigan tribe hopes for governor’s approval to build casino
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has until June 16 to approve or dismiss the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ $180m casino project.
US.- The fate of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians‘ Muskegon County casino is about to be sealed. The Michigan tribe already has US federal approval for the $180m project and is now waiting for governor Gretchen Whitmer’s decision. She has until June 16 to approve or dismiss the project. A request to delay the decision has been denied by the federal government.
In December, Whitmer filed for a one-time six month extension, which gave her additional time to sign off on the project. In May 2022, the governor reached out to the United States Department of Interior for an additional extension but was denied.
In a June 6 letter to Whitmer, retrieved by local media MLive, a federal official said an extension for her casino decision would not be issued. The letter also references a two-year, Covid-related delay in researching the Grand River Bands’ request for “federal acknowledgement.”
As a result, the federal government intends to decide on the request for acknowledgement by October 12, according to the letter from Wizipan Garriott, the Interior Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.
Whitmer’s press secretary, Bobby Leddy, released the following statement in response to MLive’s request for comment: “When it comes to decisions of this magnitude, it’s critical that we have all of the information needed to make an informed decision.
“The Department of the Interior’s failure to provide necessary information by either extending the deadline for a decision on the Little River Band’s proposal or issuing a proposed finding in response to the Grand River Bands’ acknowledgement petition is disappointing. We continue to review next steps ahead of Thursday’s deadline.”
Since 2008, the tribe has been working towards constructing a 149,000-square-foot casino and 220-room hotel at the former Great Lakes Downs Racetrack site in Fruitport Township.
Whitmer’s approval would be the final step in a two-part approval process. The tribe has received the necessary federal approvals and is awaiting state approval. The Little River Band’s eligible tribal land is based in Manistee County, but the tribe says it’s close to its original Muskegon reservation.
The US Department of Interior signed off on the project on December 16, 2020, saying the casino would be in the “best interest of the tribe” and “would not be detrimental” to the community.
In a letter sent to the US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland back in May, Whitmer expressed that the Grand River Bands “may wish to open their own gaming facility” not far from the Little River Band’s proposed casino site, and that their plans could be “frustrated” if she were to approve the Little River Band’s casino.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians said if they get approval, they would aim for a Summer 2024 opening date.
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