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Tribe seeks Oacoma's blessing for $34M casino

OACOMA -- The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the city of Oacoma will have their first joint public discussion Monday about a $34 million casino proposal.

At a town board of trustees meeting at the Oacoma Community Center, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Michael Jandreau plans to address concerns the city has about the project, which would close Lower Brule's Golden Buffalo Casino and place a new casino inside city limits just off the Oacoma exit on the north side of Interstate 90.

The board meeting begins at 6 p.m., with the casino discussion expected to start at 7.

"Anytime two bodies of people can meet positively, it's always productive," Jandreau said Thursday afternoon, "even if one side has concerns that appear to be negative. I've always said that truth is a great stabilizer."

Last week at the town's board meeting, the Oacoma board wasn't ready to give its blessing to the casino project. Its main concerns were the increased demand on the water treatment facility and the sewage treatment facility, traffic patterns, and questions about taxes.

"A project of this magnitude placed on a town of 400, there's a lot of potential for expenditures," said Mike Schreiber, Oacoma town board president. "I think it's too early to put our foot down one way or another. There are just so many potential issues that need to be ironed out."

At last week's meeting, Schreiber and other board members discussed the project with Lower Brule Tribe Consultant Richard Rangel. Monday, the board will talk about the project with Jandreau and up to five other tribal members.

Rangel said the project is in its early stages.

The first step is approval from the U.S. Department of Interior. The formal request was sent in May, and then the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs sent letters in July requesting comment about the tribe's proposal. Letters were sent from the BIA's Great Plains Office in Aberdeen to Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, eight elected commissioners from eight counties in the area and elected officials from Chamberlain, Oacoma, Pukwana, Kennebec, Kimball and Reliance. They have 60 days to respond, with the deadline being the first week of September.

"That's what the city of Oacoma was reacting to was a letter from the BIA, saying we need to know your opinion of this project," Rangel said. "The tribe and the city of Oacoma have exchanged information, but not in a face-to-face-type discussion. The town of Oacoma said 'without those face-to-face discussions, we really felt pressured by the timetable put on by this consultation phase.' "

Since learning of the September deadline, the city of Oacoma has applied for a 30-day extension that needs to be approved by the Department of Interior. Schreiber said there's no plans to file a formal complaint with the Department of Interior at this time and the city will use the available days before the deadline to further assess the project.

"We have to look out for the citizens and businesses of Oacoma," he said.

After all comments are considered, the project needs approval from the secretary of interior and then would go to South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Because the land where the proposed casino would be located was placed in trust for the tribe after Oct. 17, 1988, the date when the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law, the governor gets the final decision.

The tribe purchased the 91 acres of land on the west edge of Oacoma in 1990. The land was put into trust with the federal government in 2011. Rangel said the tribe started the process of placing the land in trust when the tribe purchased the land, but it was "not predicated on gambling or gaming."

Putting a casino on the property came up in the last three years, Rangel said at an April meeting. Rangel, who will be in attendance at Monday's meeting, is reviewing bids for environmental assessment and an environmental impact study. He acknowledged the proposal is in its early stages and has a long way to go before approval.

"The concept is to try to convince people of the benefits and try to acknowledge the negative aspects and to encourage a mutual approach to the project for long-term benefit," Rangel said. "Nobody is trying to shove something down another person's throat."