Approval of a tribal casino in Muskegon County, Michigan is far from being realized, but supporters say after a hearing this week odds of that happening have improved.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians wants to add to its casino in Manistee and has applied to take 60 acres at the site of the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack in Fruitport Township, into trust. A hearing for an Environmental Impact Statement was held on October 15 by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as part of the application.

After listening to supporters and those opposed to the casino speak for two and a half hours at a packed Fruitport Middle School auditorium, tribal leaders including the Little River Band’s Ogema leader Larry Romanelli, were optimistic. According to MLive, Romanelli said that he thought the tribe came across as a good neighbor and that the work Little River has done at its casino in Manistee was a point of reference used by many who spoke. He said that although the process is exhausting and the process is a long one, they aren’t giving up.

The process was outlined by a contractor and an official for the BIA on Thursday evening, and the comments gathered will aid in determining the scope of an Environmental Impact Statement draft. Once that happens it will be formally reviewed and approved. According to attorney for the Little River Band, R. Lance Boldrey, the first step, which is a scoping report, could take up to 90 days to complete. In addition, approval of the proposal is needed from Governor Rick Snyder and so far that hasn’t happened.

Located approximately 100 miles away from Muskegon, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe located near Mount Pleasant, are among the proposals staunchest objectors. James Nye spokesman for the Saginaw Tribe said that getting a casino approved will take more than just winning the locals over, it could take up to 10 years to get all of the necessary permissions. The tribe who owns and operates the Saganing Eagles Landing Casino and Soaring Eagle Casino has a record of opposing new casinos in Michigan since they opened their first casino over 20 years ago, according to Thomas J. St. Dennis who heads a law firm in Manistee exclusively handling Indian legal matters, including the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. According to Dennis, the Saginaw Tribe claims it will utilize all of its resources to prevent a casino from being built in Muskegon.

Interest in the Muskegon County casino was first declared by the tribe in January 2008, when it was looking at a downtown Muskegon site. The Little River Tribe has an office in Muskegon and a large concentration of their members live in the Muskegon area. The project expects to attract 1.88 million visitors annually, is supported by local public officials, anticipates hiring 1,200 residents, and will be a provider of significant support and funding to the state of Michigan as well as the local government.

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