By JOHN PEPIN
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - The Bureau of Indian Affairs has granted Gov. Rick Snyder a six-month extension to decide whether the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community plans can move its Ojibwa II Casino from Chocolay Township to the site of the former Marquette County Airport in Negaunee Township.
Last December, the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk determined the proposed facility would be in the best interest of the KBIC and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community.
With that U.S. Dept. of Interior approval, all that remains is a decision from Snyder. If the governor concurs, the tribe will be able to conduct gaming on the lands when they are acquired in trust. If Snyder does not agree, the Interior Department will not acquire the land in trust for the tribe for gaming purposes.
In a Nov. 5 letter to Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Snyder sought the six-month extension to respond to the federal determination. Washburn wrote back this week saying federal regulations allow for the extension and that it had been granted.
"We want to make sure we're doing things in a thoughtful fashion. I want to make sure we're looking at all the tribal affairs through the same, thoughtful fashion," Snyder said Thursday. "We have a pretty full plate with lots of other things going on and we have to balance our priorities. In this, I thought it was worth an extension."
An administration spokesman said previously Snyder will consider the decision through the lens of what's in the best interest of the tribe, the community and the state.
Under the KBIC proposal, the tribe plans to relocate the casino from a residential area in Chocolay Township to the former airport, on an 80-acre site in Negaunee Township. The new site would be 18 miles closer to tribal government headquarters in Baraga County.
In a 2000 settlement agreement with the state, the KBIC agreed to close its off-reservation facility in Chocolay Township if its new casino proposal gains final approval and gaming activities have begun at the new site.