The White Earth Nation recently canceled a controversial plan for a casino, hotel and event center in rural Otter Tail County.
The Chippewa nation announced that its business committee has rescinded authorization for tribal leadership to pursue the project, which had been met with opposition from many residents concerned about traffic, noise and environmental damage.
The proposed 270-acre complex, about 190 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, was planned for the shore of Star Lake, home to wild rice beds, wildlife breeding grounds and cabins that have been in families for generations.
The project would have been a drastic departure for Otter Tail County, which boasts more than 100 mom-and-pop resorts. The casino resort complex would have included 180 hotel rooms, 850 slot machines, a full-service spa, an RV park and a convention center capable of hosting gatherings of more than 400 people. The White Earth Band already operates casinos in Mahnomen and Bagley.
The nation “continues to invest in its current gaming facilities,” tribal leaders said in a statement. Earlier this year, tribal elections installed a new slate of representatives on the tribal council. Several newly elected members ran on platforms opposing the casino development.
Meanwhile, members of the public sent more than 400 pages of letters and e-mails to the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners, many opposing the project.
“I would suggest that anyone who thinks the transportation infrastructure is adequate for the proposed project take a drive from Pelican Rapids to Dent on [State Hwy.] 108 on a dark, cloudy night,” wrote Mark Oyloe of Fergus Falls.
“Our Reservation is in need of anything but another casino,” wrote Pam Fairbanks, who identified herself as a White Earth tribal member.
Nick Leonard, the county’s director of tourism and economic development, said the tribe’s decision wouldn’t put a damper on economic activity.
“We’re focused on making sure our residents have broadband and child care, and focused on bringing in young entrepreneurs to create jobs,” he said. “But we follow the process, and at the end of the day, this is where the process left off.”