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Oacoma withholds casino support

Oacoma Town Board President Mike Schreiber, center, speaks to Lower Brule Sioux Tribe members and representatives about the town's position on the tribe's proposed casino. The town opposed the project Monday evening during its first-ever meeting with the tribe, at the community center in Oacoma, about the casino and travel plaza. (Anna Jauhola/Daily Republic)

OACOMA -- The town board of Oacoma remains adamant: Without specific information about the finances and impact of a proposed tribal casino, the board will not support it.

During its regular meeting Monday night at the community center in Oacoma, the board unanimously voted to oppose the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe's construction of a casino on tribal trust land within Oacoma's city limits.

Members of the tribe and a consulting firm for the tribe attended Monday's meeting to discuss the project. The tribe proposed a $34 million casino and travel plaza project in February during a public meeting in Oacoma. It would be built on 91 acres of trust land just west of the Quality Inn in Oacoma.

The town board wants more answers regarding cost and how the project will affect the town. The land was put into trust in 2011.

"Typically we have the details of a project brought to us up front and then have the issues ironed out and then we give our approval or denial based on all that information," said Mike Schreiber, board president. "We're kind of in a precarious position. We're fully aware of the positives from the project ... but it also brings a lot of demands that could be burdens on us."

Richard Rangel, a consultant for the tribe, told the board the tribe is having an environmental assessment done to determine all the costs of the project, including the effects on sewer, water and streets.

"All of this is a part of the request for secretarial determination," he said, referring to the U.S. secretary of the interior, who is evaluating the project.

He added that the assessment is an attempt to answer lingering questions that have been raised.

Both Rangel and tribal Chairman Michael Jandreau said the tribe attended Monday's meeting to begin discussions and create a working relationship between Lower Brule and Oacoma regarding the project. Prior to Monday's meeting, the two entities had not met regarding the casino proposal.

"We're of a mind that great progress can be made if we work together and that's the attitude -- to work together," Rangel said.

Schreiber reiterated the town of Oacoma is concerned with the impact of such a huge facility and that the small town of 451 residents cannot handle building the amount of infrastructure needed to support the casino.

"Until our concerns are addressed and the board is comfortable with those, the board cannot get behind this or indicate we support it," Schreiber said.

Jandreau told the board the tribe is working to create a working relationship with the town and is not asking for approval of the project at this point. The town has yet to submit a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is within the Department of the Interior, commenting on the project.

"We're asking if you will work with us to see if this is compatible," Jandreau said.

Schreiber maintained the town needs solid numbers and assurance that there will be a way to support the infrastructure of such a large complex.

"I'm not saying we don't want to communicate with you," Schreiber said. "But we think this could be a huge burden that could bankrupt Oacoma."

Rangel told the board again that the environmental assessment the tribe has already commissioned will give the financial and infrastructure answers the town seeks. However, Schreiber said the town is still not comfortable supporting the proposal at this time without the answers.

The town board has until Sept. 6 to send a letter to the BIA regarding the issue.

After its meeting with tribal officials, the Oacoma Town Board reconvened at the Chamberlain City Commission at its meeting in Chamberlain to discuss the casino project.

The Chamberlain commission decided to send its letter to the BIA stating a neutral position -- the casino could provide economic development for the area but would increase cost to the city and its emergency and law enforcement services to Oacoma.

Oacoma has applied for a 30-day extension to submit its letter to the BIA, but has not received confirmation whether that extension was granted.

After all comments are considered, the project needs approval from the secretary of interior and then would go to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has the final decision on the fate of the project.