Prairie Island Indian community denies casino plans in West Lakeland Township – Twin Cities

A spokesperson for the Prairie Island Indian community on Thursday denied allegations made in a lawsuit that they were planning to build a casino in West Lakeland Township.

Prairie Island, owner of Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Welch, Minn., said it has no plans to build a casino on 112 acres of Indian land at Manning Avenue and Interstate 94.

A lawsuit reported in the Pioneer Press on Jan. 1 claims township supervisors conspired with the tribe to build the casino. A group called Citizens Opposed to Municipal Water alleges that township supervisors secretly approved a $154 million municipal water system to serve about half of the township’s residents and provide water for a future casino.

Tribal spokesman Eric Pehle denied such plans.

“As we have said many times since the tribe purchased the land in 2016, the tribe has no immediate development plans, nor any predetermined future uses,” Pehle said. “To suggest otherwise is irresponsible.”

He said the Indian community had asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land under the control of a federal trust.

“It’s important to note that trust status would not automatically grant the tribe the ability to continue the game on the court,” Pehle said.

U.S. Representative Betty McCollum confirmed Thursday that the request is in the hands of federal officials.

“The US Department of the Interior is responsible for the process of evaluating and approving requests from federally recognized tribal nations to place land in trust,” McCollum said in an email.

McCollum said she was unaware of any plans to build a casino, but suggested other uses for the land. The Indian community has “many needs to restore their homeland, including providing safe housing and community services.”

According to the Bureau’s website, federal trust status cedes control of a parcel of land to Indians, who can form governments, enforce their own laws, and tax their citizens. The land is sheltered by local regulations.

A casino can only be built on such land with the cooperation of state and local governments.

The lawsuit filed by the group of citizens opposed to municipal water claims that supervisors secretly decided to approve a proposal for the township’s first water system, including a water tower, two municipal wells and 41 miles of water pipes. In a legal response to that lawsuit, the township denied any wrongdoing.

The township water system proposal was made by state agencies, tasked with cleaning up water pollution from several cities.

Polluting chemicals made by 3M Co. led the state attorney general to sue the company in 2018 for environmental harm. 3M settled that case for $850 million, and $700 million remained after paying legal fees.

State agencies diverted the $700 million to water cleanup efforts in several cities, including the proposed $154 million for West Lakeland Township.

This proposal has since been dropped – so homes in the township will continue to be served by in-home filtering systems.

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