FRUITPORT TOWNSHIP, MI – The proposed casino for the Muskegon area could open as early as 2020.

It’s been nearly four years since the community gave formal input on the casino. Public input is being sought again as the federal government approaches a final decision.

The $180 million project at the former Great Lakes Down racetrack in Muskegon County’s Fruitport Township has appeared to be paused since a public hearing during October 2015 that yielded mixed, but mostly positive, comments. Since then, the federal government has reviewed the application to put 60 acres of land into trust.

Placing the land in trust is a necessary step to building a tribal casino, and the lengthiest step in the process, said Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli.

On Friday, Nov. 23, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs published the draft environmental impact statement for the project, which is the next step in the review to place the land in trust.

“This is one of the last big hurdles,” Romanelli said.

The project is already 10 years in the making — the tribe purchased the land in 2008.

The detailed environmental impact statement includes the project’s potential effect on land use, geology and soils, water resources, agricultural resources, biological resources, cultural resources, traffic, air quality, noise, public health/environmental hazards, hazardous material and waste, public services and socio-economics.

The public will be asked for comment on the impact statement before the department gives its final approval sometime during spring 2019.

A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Fruitport Middle School auditorium, 3113 Pontaluna Road.

Written comments will be taken through Jan. 7, 2019. Comments can be submitted via email with the subject line “DEIS Comments, Little River Band Trust Acquisition and Casino Project” to Felix Kitto, regional environmental protection specialist, Bureau of Indian Affairs, at felix.kitto@bia.gov. Comments can be mailed to:

Midwest Regional Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Midwest Region,
Norman Pointe II, Building,
5600 West American Boulevard, Suite 500
Bloomington, MN 55347

Tor view the full environmental impact statement, visit littlerivereis.com.

Romanelli expects the federal government to render a swift approval following the comment period.

After that, the tribe will seek state approval of the project, which requires an act of the state legislature. By then the new House, Senate and governor will be in place, but Romanelli still anticipates support from the state government.

State approval is the final step before the tribe can begin work toward construction, he said. Construction could take a year to a year and a half.

“I have high hopes that the state governor, House and Senate will be supportive,” Romanelli said. “We’re in a good place and doing this for good reasons. They all understand jobs in West Michigan.”

It has been estimated that the casino would create 1,200 jobs with an average annual pay of $45,000.

The casino would include about 69,000 square feet of gaming floor space, 1,700 slot machines and 35 table games, a 220-room hotel, conference and meeting room space, and dining and entertainment options.

The casino is expected to help boost traffic to the nearby shopping district, which includes The Lakes Mall, Lakeshore Market and Lakes Crossing Shopping Center, Romanelli said. He said he also believes it will boost tourism overall to Muskegon County and complement the ongoing development of downtown Muskegon, which includes several new and redeveloped mixed-use buildings hosting restaurants, retail and housing.

“There’s a lot going on in the area,” he said. “This is absolutely a good part of the engine to make West Michigan boom. It fits into the tourism with the location at the intersection of I-96 and U.S. 31 – it’s a perfect location.”

The proposed casino has received support from Fruitport Township, Fruitport Community Schools, Muskegon County, West Michigan trade unions and local businesses. Fruitport Township and Muskegon County affirmed support for the tribe’s Muskegon casino project with resolutions.

The Little River Band has signed a municipal services agreement with Muskegon County and Fruitport Township to make payments for public safety, sanitary sewer, public water construction and other services related to the casino.

The tribe operates its government and the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee County, but a large portion of its members reside in Muskegon County.

“The opening of a casino in Fruitport Township will enable the tribe to provide housing, health care, education and other services to our elders and youth, particularly those based in Muskegon County,” said Tribal Council Speaker Joseph Riley II.

 

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