Environmental obstacles are just one of many issues facing the White Earth Nation’s proposed Star Lake Casino, which opponents say still has a long way to go before being built.

The president of the Star Lake Concerned Citizens Group, Ty Dayton, says that the project proposed by the White Earth Ojibwe tribe of Minnesota faces environmental obstacles, a shortage of potential workers, and opposition from within the tribe, and is far from being a done deal. Dayton said. “There are a number of steps that still need to be resolved. The (Otter Tail) county still needs to discuss this in front of the public, and there is the potential (for county commissioners) to escalate this from an environmental assessment worksheet to an environmental impact statement,” according to the Perham Focus.

The White Earth Nation, owner and operator of the Shooting Star Casino & Hotel in Mahnomen and the Shooting Star Casino in Bagley (pictured), which opened in August 2016, is looking to build a casino resort on 15 acres of land that the federal government is keeping in trust for the tribe and another 225 acres that were purchased by the tribe in 2015. The latter of which, the tribe intends to utilize for transportation access, parking utility operations, and other infrastructure.

Dayton reportedly said the majority of the trust land is various types of wetland that the federal government placed in trust in 1938 so that the tribe would have access to the wild rice beds that grow directly off of the site where the casino is proposed.

Dayton went on to explain, “That shallow bay is an extremely important habitat for panfish that feed the great fishery of Star Lake. It’s also an important breeding ground for wildfowl — that’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created preserves to the north and west of Star Lake and to the south and east of Dead Lake,” adding that, “This is about as environmentally sensitive an area as you can get.” He said that “There are also historical archeological sites there with artifacts, because for decades that area has been accessed by White Earth members.” In addition to the environmental issues, the area where the site is located suffers from a worker shortage and is without major highways. Dayton added that the tribe’s plan to bus workers the 90 minutes to and from Mahnomen is not a feasible long-term plan.

Last month, Bill Marsh, the general manager of Shooting Star Casino, told the newspaper that developers understand the environmental concerns, and that they are committed to creating little or no environmental impact. He added that the economy would be stimulated by the development, through job creation and increased foot traffic, which would improve tourism throughout the area.

In order to ensure that all of the proper procedures and laws regarding such a development are followed, an independent consultant has been helping county officials work through the environmental review process, according to Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners chairmen Doug Huebsch.

Huebsch said that Otter Tail County doesn’t possess jurisdiction over the 15 acres of trust land, or the casino’s septic system, but that it does have jurisdiction over a portion of the proposed parking lot. He said, “Once we accept the EAW (environmental assessment worksheet) as complete, it will be registered with the Environmental Quality Board, at which point the reviewers will have 30 days to submit comments and Otter Tail County may host a public meeting,” according to the report. At that time, a determination of whether or not an environmental impact statement is necessary will be made by the county.

The tribe first announced plans for its third casino in September 2015 and at the time said it would begin construction on the land, which is located on Star Lake’s west side near County Highway 41 just south of the White Earth Indian Reservation, the following year, with completion expected sometime this year.

Developers of the casino resort now say the venue should open next year in late fall and will feature as many as 850 slot machines, 180 hotel rooms, a restaurant and full-service bar and grill, entertainment lounge, gift shop, a 10,000-square-foot conference center, RV park, and a 6,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor pool and spa area.

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