Officials in Ottery Tail County, Minnesota are considering whether to take a closer look at a casino proposal by the White Earth Nation and the possible need for a full environmental impact statement on the project, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Late in September 2015, the White Earth Nation announced plans to build the Shooting Star Casino and Resort on the shores of Star Lake in Otter Tail County between Pelican Rapids and Dent, Minnesota. The casino, which was at the time projected to open this year, is to be built on about 225 acres of “fee land” purchased by the Nation to provide room for transportation access, parking, and other infrastructure included in the development, in addition to 15 acres of trust land.

In addition to a gambling facility, the project reportedly includes an 180-room hotel, full-service bar and grill, restaurant, a 10,000-square-foot conference center, 6,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor pool and spa area,  gift shop,  entertainment lounge, RV park, as many as 850 slot machines and other amenities. It would be the third casino in Minnesota to operate under the umbrella of the Shooting Star Casino, Hotel and Entertainment Company. The White Earth nation’s other two gambling venues include the Shooting Star Casino, Hotel and Entertainment in Mahnomen and Shooting Star Casino in Bagley, Minnesota, which opened in August 2016.

However, the project has been met with intense opposition from some local residents who worry about the potential harm increased traffic will have on wetlands, and the character of the rural area comprised mostly of family owned resorts and seasonal lake cabins. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that upwards of 200 residents showed up at the hearing in June and dozens more submitted comments to the Board of Commissioners in Ottery Tail County. Before the month’s end, the County Board must decide whether or not to request the environmental impact statement.

In June last year, a group calling itself the Star Lake Concerned Citizens Group met to discuss the casino proposal. At the time, the organization’s president, Ty Dayton, urged opponents of the casino to speak out. Dayton reportedly stated that factors including the development’s possible threat to wild rice beds and the local ecosystem could inhibit the building process and he declared that the area’s wetlands fell under the protection of the Department of Natural Resources and as such should be exempt from being a part of trust land.

In February this year, Dayton told local TV station KVVR, “In 1938, the United States government purchased a parcel of land and placed it in trust for the benefit of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe,” And, “They can derive additional economic benefit beyond the rice they do have the right to develop it in whatever means they deem appropriate.” Dayton said that opened the door for the White Earth Nation’s casino proposal for Star Lake.

At the same time, Bill Marsh, CEO of Shooting Star Casino, told the news agency that they intend for the facility to have a resort feel to it so that it will blend in with other resorts that are in the area.

Otter Tail County Commissioner Wayne Johnson told KVVR that the White Earth Nation has submitted a wetland mitigation or replacement plan to the Army Corps of Engineers for dredging a wetland in order to build a casino where they want. He further stated that the Nation has applied for a permit to build a parking lot within the county’s jurisdiction. The Nation’s trust lands are controlled by a treaty with the U.S. government, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Ground has yet to be broken on the Star Lake casino project, and Dayton told the local TV news station that it’s far from a done deal.

Construction is reportedly expected to take about 13 months and the casino is now projected to open late fall next year.

Once the Otter Tail County Board receives a completed environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) listing all the details about the project, it will then be forwarded for review to the Environmental Quality Board.

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