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Oacoma fights casino plan

OACOMA — Mayor Mike Schreiber has told the U.S. Department of Interior the Town of Oacoma “firmly objects” to granting federal permission for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe to build an off-reservation casino there.

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The city government’s official response covers 38 pages explaining that, at 451 people in the 2010 census, the community is too small to handle the project, doesn’t have the people to fill the jobs, doesn’t have housing for people to move into town for the work, doesn’t have the water-system capacity to meet the project, doesn’t have the debt capacity to expand the system and would lose tax revenue if the casino is built.

Then there’s the potential that the project could cause storm-water flooding for existing property owners. That’s because the casino and truck stop would be high above most of the community, on a hillside that drains directly into the center of town.

Oacoma relies on ditches to move rainfall and snowmelt, rather than underground storm mains.

There are 27 pages of supplementary materials in the city’s response to the federal agency, including a Dec. 15, 1998, letter from then-Gov. Bill Janklow that seemed to lock the door against gambling at the site.

In that letter, Janklow notified then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt that he supported placing the 92 acres in federal trust as tribal property, based “upon their new business plan and assurance the Tribe will not conduct gaming at this location.”

The new plan at that time was to use the land for cultural education. Nothing was built. Tribal Chairman Michael Jandreau was in office then and now.

Janklow has since died, and Jandreau is pursing gambling again. The tribe needs approval from the Interior Department and, in this instance, from the governor, too, under the process established in federal law for off-reservation tribal gambling. As for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, he’s been waiting to see the facts come in.

South Dakota currently doesn’t have any off-reservation tribal casinos. Eight of the nine tribal governments operate casinos within the boundaries of their reservations, and the city of Deadwood allows casino gambling.

The attraction here for the tribal government is a prime location directly off Interstate 90 on the west side of the Missouri River bridge. The casino and truck stop would overlook the westbound lanes and could be seen by westbound traffic before reaching the Oacoma exit.

Unexplained in the tribe’s application are the road improvements and maintenance responsibilities for the new piece of highway between the exit’s intersection and the casino and truck stop site.

“Oacoma has prided itself on being a relatively ‘sleepy’ but successful tourist oriented community,” the mayor said in his statement. “It is a safe place to raise children as reflected on any summer or warm spring or fall night when children are outside playing.

“Construction of a high-use highprofile project on the corner leading into the main town of Oacoma will change that quality of life in ways that are completely overlooked in the tribe’s application.”

Oacoma’s response also notes that the tribe didn’t complete an environmental assessment as part of its current application. Instead the tribe is using a 2000 assessment that covered the scenic-byways tourist project.

Oacoma’s population is 88.9 percent white and 6.4 percent Native American. The Lower Brule tribal community is 27 miles away. The plan calls for 241 workers but no information has been disclosed regarding wages.

“If the plan is to construct Indian Housing capable of providing shelter for 100 families then the essential character of Oacoma is significantly changed,” the mayor’s statement said. “How this would affect the overall community is undefined, as is the potential impact such housing could have on the infrastructure and other areas of the community itself.”