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Lower Brule casino at Oacoma takes next step

By Jessica Giard

For the Daily Republic

OACOMA — An environmental assessment for a proposed American Indian casino in central South Dakota is under way and could be finalized by July.

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The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe has contracted with a Bismarck, N.D., engineering firm to prepare the assessment.

The tribe proposes to build a $34 million casino and travel plaza on 94 acres of tribal-owned trust land northwest of Interstate 90 exit 260 at Oacoma. Since the tribe would move its gaming off the reservation, the project also requires eventual approval from the U.S. secretary of interior and the governor of South Dakota.

Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson Inc., of Bismarck, is preparing the environmental assessment to be reviewed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Under National Environmental Policy Act guidelines, the assessment will review impacts on natural resources, including water, vegetation and wildlife, and socioeconomics.

“Socioeconomics will be one of the bigger aspects we look at on this project,” said Steve Czeczok, environmental planner with KLJ. He noted the firm acts as a third party in the review.

Under the preliminary schedule, the assessment should be ready for final review in July 2014. The schedule includes a public input meeting in the Chamberlain area in January or February. According to the firm’s letter to agencies, construction would start in 2015.

Czeczok said the firm contacted a laundry list of local, state and federal agencies for comment in this first stage of the assessment. Sixty agencies received a request for comment with a Dec. 5 deadline.

Comments from agencies and the public will be incorporated into the study for BIA review.

The town of Oacoma and the city of Chamberlain each received letters, which included a map of the proposed water drainage off the tribal-owned property.

Steve Smith, attorney for the town of Oacoma, believes the request is not specific on what information the firm wants for the assessment.

“We’ll tell them our objections have already been stated,” Smith said.

On Oct. 4, Oacoma submitted a 38-page response to the Department of Interior and BIA outlining the town’s objections to the tribe’s proposal. That was in response to a request for comment from the Department of Interior.

The town’s largest objections revolved around the high cost of infrastructure development needed to support the casino complex, specifically water and sewer, and potential strains on the local housing and labor markets.

The city of Chamberlain owns the neighboring Chamberlain Country Club, which sits west of the trust land and shares the same paved access road.

Greg Powell, Chamberlain city engineer, said the city is concerned how drainage could affect the flood-prone creek that runs through the golf course. The city also wants to know more about proposed maintenance on the access road.

“Basically, Chamberlain has made a substantial investment in the golf course,” said Powell.

The city of Chamberlain also responded to the Dept. of Interior’s earlier request for comments. The city opted for a position of neither support nor objection to the proposed casino and, instead, issued concern over potential increased demands on law enforcement and fire protection.