MANISTEE — The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians announced Thursday that its proposed casino project in Muskegon County’s Fruitport Township is taking one step closer to reality.

In a press release, the tribe announced the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will publish a Notice Availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the tribe’s fee-to-trust and casino project a former racetrack in Fruitport Township near the intersection of I-96 and U.S. 31.

“This is an incredible step forward in our process to build the Muskegon County casino project,” stated Larry Romanelli, ogema of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, in the press release. “This project is about job creation for our community, and I want to thank everyone – our steadfast community, our federal and state leaders, labor unions and tribal members for their support for this project.”

The tribe states that approximately 3,000 jobs will be created from the project, of which 1,500 will be full-time jobs at the casino and hotel with another 1,500 jobs through construction and ancillary jobs. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is building this casino with internal financial resources and no taxpayer dollars but is expected to generate economic development of $15 million in tax revenue for the State of Michigan and millions more for local governments, according to the release.

According to the release, the BIA considered the Little River Band’s proposed casino project and other economic development alternatives. The BIA concluded that the casino proposal was the preferred alternative of the federal government. A public comment period will take place, and once that period concludes, the federal government will issue a decision on the application. If approved, the process moves to the state for a decision of concurrence from the governor and action by the state legislature.

The tribe has historical ties to traditional land in the Muskegon region with Muskegon County being home to the Little River Band’s largest population base. Muskegon County is also one of the Little River Band’s service areas and the tribe maintains governmental offices in Muskegon to serve its large number of local members.

“The tribe plans to develop a casino on our traditional land in Muskegon County so we can serve our largest population of tribal citizens in our service area,” said Tribal Council Speaker Ron Pete. “A casino in Muskegon County will enable the tribe to provide jobs, housing, health care, education and other services to our elders and youth. It will also provide a very positive economic impact for the Muskegon community.”

The Little River Band has been working on this project for more than 10 years. The tribe filed an application in February 2015 requesting the BIA place the 60 acres of land in trust for a $180 million casino and economic development project. The BIA published a draft environmental impact statement in November 2018 followed by a public hearing and comment period.

The development calls for a casino with 69,000 square feet of gaming floor space to include 1,700 slot machines and 35 table games. A 220-room hotel is also part of the project along with event and meeting room spaces as well as dining and entertainment options.

The BIA reviewed potential environmental impacts of the casino project, and according to the release, it included 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.

A public comment period after the BIA publishes the final environmental impact statement will be announced by the federal government.

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