Snyder says ‘no’ to casino at old airport

MARQUETTE – Citing a desire to reach a broader tribal agreement, Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday rejected a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community proposal to relocate one of its casinos to the former Marquette County Airport.

The KBIC was seeking to relocate its Ojibwa II Casino from Chocolay Township to the site of the former airport site in Negaunee Township. Tuesday was the deadline for Snyder to act on the proposal, which was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior in late 2011. The governor’s consent would have allowed the Interior Department to acquire the land in trust for the tribe’s gaming purposes.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, Snyder indicated he would be receptive to the idea of a casino relocation as part of a larger bargain between the tribe and the state.

Snyder would like to see any future agreement include a requirement that tribal businesses levy taxes on all transactions with non-Native Americans, something the KBIC has taken a stand against in the past.

The tribe operates The Pines Convenience Center, a tax-free gasoline station in Baraga, and the tribe is looking to construct a second station in Marquette Township along U.S. 41.

At a township board meeting last summer, Gregg Nominelli, an economic developer with the KBIC’s Office of Planning and Development, said the new station would offer lower gas prices than those available from local competitors.

Citing the tribe’s status as a sovereign governmental unit, Nominelli told the board the KBIC would fight any attempt to force them to be subject the state’s sales tax. The tribe has no taxing agreement with the state.

Snyder also said he would like to see local governments “have some say in the disposition of the 2 percent local casino revenue sharing payments.”

Under a gaming compact with the state, the tribe returns 2 percent of gaming revenues to local communities for multiple uses. Nominelli said last year that from 1990 to 2011, the tribe contributed over $11 million to Baraga County road work.

Nominelli said the tribe also made a $97,000 allocation to Chocolay Township in 2012 for fire response needs.

Snyder also expressed interest in revising the revenue-sharing agreement between the state and the KBIC to ensure that payments to the state will continue, even if the state authorizes additional gaming in the future.

Under the KBIC’s current agreement, the tribe’s revenue payments would stop if state-authorized gaming was expanded.

Snyder said the KBIC declined to take part in discussions about an agreement including his provisions.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community has about 3,300 members and also operates the Ojibwa I Casino, located on reservation land in Baraga County.

KBIC representatives did not respond to requests for comments prior to press time today.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.