By Stephen Anderson
BARAGA - The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is "appalled" by Gov. Rick Snyder's refusal to allow the tribe to relocate its Marquette County casino to the former Marquette County Airport, according to a written response Friday.
Snyder, through a Tuesday letter signed by his deputy legal counsel, insists "despite significant concerns with the Tribe's conduct," he would have concurred with the U.S. Department of Interior's favorable determination of the relocation "if the Tribe had been willing to reach an agreement that would benefit the Tribe, the local community and the State."
Snyder announced Tuesday, his deadline to act on the proposal, he would decline to concur with the proposal to move the KBIC's Chocolay Township casino to the Negaunee Township location. The KBIC also operates a casino in Baraga County.
The governor indicated he was open to the relocation as part of a broader agreement between the KBIC and the state. Such an agreement, according to a Tuesday press release from Snyder's office, would include:
allowing local governments to have some say in how the tribe's 2 percent local casino revenue is shared.
KBIC entering into an agreement requiring tribal businesses to collect tax on transactions with non-Native Americans.
working out a revised revenue sharing agreement "so the tribe would continue to make some level of payments to the state, even if future gaming competition develops elsewhere in the state."
The KBIC is the only tribe with gaming operations in the state with an agreement that would stop revenue sharing payments if state-authorized gaming was expanded in Michigan.
Snyder claims that despite invitations from his office the KBIC declined to take part in discussions about a potential agreement. According to the KBIC's letter, there was a 15-minute meeting in which Snyder admitted he had not reviewed any of the material himself and his staff had not yet briefed him on the issues.
"Governor Snyder also ignored invitations from KBIC to come to the U.P. to discuss the issues," read the KBIC's response letter. "The Governor's legal counsel sent letters raising irrelevant issues."
Among the list of "irrelevant" terms sent from Snyder's legal counsel is that "KBIC will agree not to request that the Department of Interior take land into trust for a gas station/convenience store and will agree not to open up a gas station/convenience store on trust land outside of its reservation."
Another of the eight terms to discuss is that the "KBIC will waive sovereign immunity for purposes of enforcing the agreement."
"When KBIC refused to accept the accusations and terms contained in those letters from the Governor's Office, we were then told by the Governor's Office to disregard the issues raised in those letters," according to the KBIC response letter. "Yet those issues were what Governor Snyder cited as justification for his refusal to concur."
The issue dates by to 2000 when then-Gov. John Engler signed an agreement to allow the KBIC to relocate the casino. A 2001 consent judgment resolved litigation between the state, tribe and the U.S. over a second casino, requiring the state (Snyder) to provide "due consideration" to any Department of Interior decision. Since that time, according to the KBIC's response letter, the tribe has worked with federal and local government to complete the necessary process.
Under federal law, all that remained for the relocation was for Snyder to concur with the U.S. Department of Interior's findings that "a gaming establishment on newly acquired lands would be in the best interest of the Indian tribe and its members," and "gaming on newly acquired lands would not be detrimental to the surrounding community."
"The project would have created new permanent jobs, funded the building of local infrastructure and provided additional revenue to local governments," reads the KBIC letter. "Governor Snyder failed to address those issues and completely disregarded all the money already spent by these local governments and the KBIC in preparation for and reliance on the relocation of the casino."
Among the "significant concerns" about the tribe, according to Snyder, was:
repeated violations of the 2001 consent judgment by the KBIC withholding nearly $800,000 in required revenue sharing payments between 2005-08.
violations of tobacco statutes such as selling untaxed and untaxed cigarettes to non-members.
refusal to collect use tax from non-members at tribal retail operations.
allowance of non-tribal businesses located within the reservation to flout state public health and safety laws, including the state's smoking ban.
"KBIC believes the real issue is that Michigan is considering legislation to expand the state lottery to allow for online gaming," reads the KBIC letter. "... Governor Snyder wanted to use the transfer of the Marquette casino as leverage to force the KBIC to continue to make payments despite expanded state gaming in violation of the gaming agreement.
"The governor is more concerned about payments to Lansing than creating jobs here and benefiting local units of government."
From the Baraga County Ojibwa Casino, the 2 percent distribution for the period Oct. 1, 2012 through March 30, 2013, totals $117,904.93. From the Ojibwa II Casino in Marquette County, distributions for the same period total $161,435.40.
"While Governor Snyder states that he has 'significant concerns with the Tribe's conduct,' KBIC is concerned about the conduct of a governor who refuses to uphold agreements of the Office of the Governor of the State of Michigan."
Under current established procedures, the KBIC may resubmit its proposal.