The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians had their proposed retail casino in Fruitport Township rejected this past June.
Now, just four months later, the Department of Interior has requested Little River Band resubmit its application.
It’s the latest development in a long-running saga for the tribe’s effort to add a casino in Fruitport Township.
Plans for new Muskegon area casino rejected last June
Little River Band of Ottawa Indians had plans set to break ground in Fruitport last summer, but plans were rejected by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer stated she was in an “impossible position” over the decision.
Whitmer didn’t feel she could grant the land to Little River Band until a decision to grant federal recognition to the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians was made.
Should Grand River Bands earn recognition, they would be entitled to land in the vicinity of where the new proposed casino would be built. Grand River Bands claims the Fruitport Township casino would be built on their ancestral lands.
That decision on Grand River Bands was scheduled for an Oct. 12 deadline. However, the DOI was given a 120-day extension on the matter, pushing the latest deadline to Feb. 9, 2023.
DOI urges Little River to resubmit casino application
Nothing has changed in regard to what led Whitmer to make her decision last June. Despite that, the DOI has asked Little River Band to resubmit its application for the Fruitport Township casino.
“The Department of the Interior has been very clear in their letters saying that they support this project for the benefit of the Little River Band and the whole area,” Fruitport Township Supervisor Todd Dunham said in a press release.
The DOI had approved the proposed casino plans by the Little River Band previously despite the knowledge of the Grand River Bands claims to the lands.
Plans for the Fruitport Township casino and hotel have been in the works since 2008. It is a proposed $180 million project. The first application was submitted in 2015.
Grand River Bands still awaiting federal recognition
Last month, the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians suffered their latest extension in the wait to earn federal recognition.
The tribe has been making an effort for recognition since 1994.
An Oct. 12 deadline for a decision from the DOI was extended by 120 days as “good cause” was found to extend the decision further.
Federal recognition can provide the tribe with health care, housing and education assistance programs not currently provided to their members.
It would also entitle the tribe to use the lands as they see fit if they had designs to build their own retail casino.
Little River Band believes the extension letter from the DOI is enough to move their plans along.
“This letter is the decision the Governor said she was waiting on. We now have it,” Dunham said. “The public supports this project. Every surrounding municipality supports this project. Three presidential administrations and two previous governors have supported it no matter the political party. Everyone knows it would be a huge economic engine for the lakeshore.”
Little River Band ready to break ground on new casino
Little River Band was set to break ground on its new casino this past summer if Whitmer approved.
The governor’s decision drew a lot of criticism from Fruitport Township officials, who were in full support of the plan.
The proposed casino called for 3,000 new jobs to the Muskegon area, with 1,500 of them being permanent.
“We’ve had overwhelming support from the community for these years,” Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Omega Larry Romanelli told Wood TV8. “The first package that we submitted was very good. It was one of the best that the Department of Interior had ever received, and because of the outpouring of support for this, (the DOI) recognize it as a very good deal.”
Governor Whitmer will still have to sign off on casino
From Whitmer’s perspective, nothing has really changed to impact her decision.
She’s already stated that she’s awaiting the federal decision on Grand River Bands before granting any approval to Little River Band.
That decision could come in February, or it could continue to be extended as it has multiple times before.
The gubernatorial race between Whitmer and challenger Tudor Dixon will be decided on Nov. 8. If elected, this decision would shift to Dixon. She has made no public comment on the matter.