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Shooting Star Casino meeting draws large crowd in Dent

The exterior renderings of the proposed Shooting Star Casino and Resort for Star Lake were on display during the neighborhood meeting in Dent on March 30. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Jason Groth

An overflowing crowd filled the Dent Community Center to voice their concerns about a proposed three-story casino and hotel planned on Star Lake in Otter Tail County beginning in the fall of 2016 and opening in 2017.

“We are not building Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, we are being quite respectful to the surroundings and doing our due diligence in every craft possible in creating our new facility,” Shooting Star General Manager Bill Marsh said addressing rumors of the proposed casino.

The casino will feature a 6,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor pool and spa area. Plans also include a CyberQuest function for kids at the resort as well as a 10,000-foot conference center with break-out rooms, a franchised restaurant and gift shop, full service bar and grill and entertainment lounge.

The casino will feature 750-slot machines along with 10-12 tables games and a full service buffet. Marsh said this was phase one of their plans moving forward.

“We have limited the height to be amicable with the area,” Marsh said. “We tried to blend the northwoods feel and not present ourselves as a Las Vegas-style casino. Our focus is on the resort-type living. That’s the type of the facility we are trying to design.”

That was one of the many concerns from the more than 500 people in attendance at the neighborhood meeting.

“We have focused on harnessing the northwoods resort feel to the concept of the facility in our design,” Marsh said. “We aren’t looking to build outlandish neon signs that you will see from 30 miles away or 30-foot towers. We wanted to bring more conceptual work from the Cunningham group to show these items and to answer some questions about this facility, this monstrosity, that has been talked about in the communities and really start to answer some of your questions.”

The access to the casino will be on County Road 41, west to east, on to the property. The hotel, gaming and resort area will take place on the White Earth Trust Land. Trust Land is in ownership and controlled by White Earth Nation. The land surrounding the Trust Land is fee land, which was purchased by the White Earth Nation, which can’t be transferred to Trust Land.

With the project, Marsh said the Shooting Star Casino officials have met with Lake Region Electric Cooperative, hoping to create better electric service to the surrounding area and have met with Arvig Communications to provide better wifi service for the area.

“We are trying to benefit, not only the area, but the business that we are trying to create,” Marsh said. “We are trying to create that partnership with the communities as well. That’s a few things that we have been working on.”

Marsh said the project is still in the facility design phase and that they are making progress.

“We are making positive progress, keeping in mind and doing our due diligence at every step of the way,” Marsh said. “(We are) trying to be good partners with the county, with the communities and area businesses to take advantage of their resources. Our goal is not only to create new jobs with solid benefits, but also to become that partner and create more resources in the area that the facility resides in by strengthening electric service, internet services and finding different ways that we can bring advantages to area communities.”

Otter Tail County and White Earth Nation have combined to hire SRF Consulting Group to do a Limited Area Star Lake Comprehensive Plan. Craig Vaughn of SRF Group talked about the three phases of the project, which started with the neighborhood meeting. At the meeting a survey was distributed and can be found online at the county website. They hope to conclude the surveys in two weeks, with April 13 being the final day to submit the surveys.

A mid-May meeting is planned and the results of the survey will be shared at that time, Vaughn said.

“The comprehensive plan effort does review environmental effects, however, yet at a high level and not within in the boundaries or structure of a state environmental worksheet,” Vaughn said. “That is a deeper dive into the environmental effects.”

Vaughn was surprised at the number of people at the meeting, expecting it to be a small meeting of residents who live on or near Star Lake.

“I was blown away by the interest and the energy that you guys have for your community, participating and understanding,” Vaughn said. “I hope, not only with the comments we have been able to provide, that you have gained some additional information and have a better understanding what the Limited Area Comprehensive Plan is and what the Shooting Star Casino and Resort proposal is with the look, feel and program elements. Our intention would be to hear from and understand from the local area residents at this time.”

A citizen who lives on the lake raised concerns about why information about the casino didn’t come out right away when the White Earth Nation was purchasing land around their Trust Land on Star Lake.

Marsh said the land was agricultural land previously and if it was going to be converted to commercial, it took away their leverage in negotiating the purchase of the land around the Trust Land, if the landowners knew what the use of the land was going to be before, prior to purchase.

“The tribe is well within its rights to build a casino/resort on the Trust Land facility,” Marsh said. “By no means is there any intent to not be transparent with the public. Our plans are where they are at the current state. The information was released before we were in the development stage and that’s unfortunate. We do apologize for that. However, that was the fact, the information was released and we needed to make a response. As the information progresses, we are able to share this information with you and have some semblance of a design concept coming together, we will be transparent.”

Other concerns raised involved the use of emergency services in the area which Marsh said they like to work with the surrounding communities. The White Earth Nation added that they have started the process of talking with the Otter Tail Sheriff’s Department, the Perham and Pelican Rapids Ambulance Service, the Highway Patrol and local police departments that overlap the area. They plan on talking with them about the number of calls to the area and how they anticipate it would change and if they want to receive more information from White Earth Nation.

“Part of this whole collaborative process is to identify those concerns and get answers to those agencies, so they can plan and coordinate with the county and White Earth Nation to the extent that they need to, to not have their services suffer in any way for the areas that they serve,” White Earth Enterprise’s Liz Foster-Anderson said.

When asked about future development for the property beyond the current proposal of the new Shooting Star Casino and Resort, Foster-Anderson said the tribe has looked at an overall master plan but they are not ready to put on paper what phase two, three and four might be.

“Right now, their focused approach is a phase one project development,” Foster-Anderson said. “That is what is out here in the community and the community’s hand.”

Another concern that was raised involves the environmental impact that the casino will have on the lake and the Star Lake Township area. Marsh said during the meeting that the tribe has entered into doing a voluntary environmental worksheet. A question was raised if the building didn’t pass, would they still try to build the casino. The tribe has to show that they are avoiding impacts or mitigating the impacts that they have.

“There would be certain impacts that could be experienced and if they are not mitigated, they would not get a favorable environmental review,” SRF Groups Cyndi Lane said. “Then, the project would have to be changed or scaled differently so that record of finding of significant impact is to be made. It’s simply a requirement for the permits to be moved forward.”

However, Marsh stated that any project that they have taken on, whether it being on Fee or Trust Land, there has been a process of avoidance and mitigating all environmental impacts and that the projects do not carry forward unless the mitigation takes place.

The Wednesday meeting was the first of three intended meetings. The follow-up meeting will be an open house meeting in mid-May, while the final meeting will feature the study recommendations and implementation plan in mid to late June.

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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