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Letter: White Earth should shoot down plans for Star Lake Casino

Shooting Star Corporation has plans to build a new casino, which will be the third one for the White Earth Nation, at remote Star Lake in Otter Tail County. It's a bad idea. Here's why:

First of all, it's an environmental disaster. It would replace a beautiful, wild, untouched area with a commercial development that's not suitable in the area and where there's no infrastructure to support it.

It involves filling in 8.5 acres of the lake—destroying wild rice beds and valuable historical and archeological rice campsites. The tribe has already come under strong criticism, and likely will have to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. If water is sacred, if wild rice is sacred—then this site is not culturally or spiritually appropriate.

Secondly it's very expensive location to build. Because of it's remoteness, the tribe has to help the county (with over a million dollars already promised) to put in shoulders, signs and turning lanes on the roads. And that doesn't include emergency services or what it would cost to reroute County Highway 41.

The building site is mostly bog, so the engineering and construction as well as mitigation will all have added costs. The tribe is already spending a fortune on public relations to overcome strong opposition. And contractors expect top dollar fees in lake country.

Unfortunately, with all these expenses, projected revenues may be unrealistic, given this site draws heavily on the existing market. There's no new population center that doesn't already patronize Mahnomen, and no easy access to the site, especially in the winter.

So folk at White Earth are asking to see the tribal budget, and they want to know what the projected costs are, and what exactly the terms of the loans. Valid questions.

If these monies are coming from federal grants, why not write those for projects that more directly benefit tribal members? Why not make the Mahnomen casino more of a "destination" Update the gaming rooms. Add a luxury hotel, water park and golf course that is close by and tribal members could use? One way or another Mahnomen is soon going to need a facelift.

Or build a resort on the eastern side of the reservation, in Becker County, closer to Itasca and Park Rapids? If the Army Corps turns this project done, Becker County could step in with a proposal of its own.

This Star Lake project involves excessive expenses, creates controversy, and goes against deep cultural and spiritual values. And it also may not be economically realistic. The big money people on the rez have stars in their eyes, but reality bites.—Deb Wallwork, Dent