Construction unions hungry for jobs a proposed Kenosha casino would create joined the call for a federal investigation into the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ denial of the project.
The federal agency in January 2009 rejected the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin’s plan to build an estimated $1 billion project in Kenosha that would include a casino, hotel and convention center.
Edward Gray, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 127 in Kenosha, said the 60 members he has on layoff need the jobs the project would generate.
“We’ve got a project-labor agreement on the project with the Menominee, and we’re looking for jobs,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of work there for the building trades of southeastern Wisconsin.”
The Menominee, in partnership with the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, proposed building the casino complex on a 223-acre site in Kenosha where the Dairyland Greyhound Park now stands. The site is not tribal land, so the BIA must take ownership of the land as a federal trust before the Menominee can build the casino there.
The Menominee, since 2009, has been involved in a lawsuit against the BIA over its rejection of the tribe’s application to put the land into federal trust. But the release of federal documents to the Menominee late last month could support the tribe’s lawsuit and shows a need for a federal investigation into the rejection, said Evan Zeppos, spokesman for the Kenosha project.
Southeastern Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council, of which Gray is the secretary, on Wednesday sent a letter to the BIA office seconding the call for an investigation.
“When we found out about it, we wanted to do something,” Gray said. “So we got in touch with the Menominee and they said, ‘call for an investigation.’”
Representatives in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Public Affairs were not immediately available for comment.
The Menominee tribe last month received copies of documents written by officials in the BIA regional office in Minnesota that recommends approval of the Menominee’s application. But the central BIA office in Washington, D.C., did not follow the recommendation and rejected the application.
The agency never released the regional office’s documents as part of the Menominee’s federal lawsuit, Zeppos said.
Other BIA documents the Menominee received last month include correspondence between BIA officials and the Forest County Potawatomi Community, which opposed the casino project. Those letters suggest the Potawatomi’s representatives had received documents that were not released as part of the lawsuit, Zeppos said.
“The feds didn’t put them in the record,” he said. “Obviously they don’t want them in the record.”
The Menominee’s attorneys have asked the federal judge presiding over the lawsuit to reopen the court record so the additional documents can be included in the case, Zeppos said. The documents, such as the regional office’s recommendation that the Menominee’s application be approved, will bolster the tribe’s argument that the BIA’s rejection should be vacated and the regional office’s decision upheld, he said.
If the BIA upholds the regional office recommendation, the project application will go to the Wisconsin governor’s office for approval.
If the project is approved, it would not take long for construction to begin, Zeppos said.
“I don’t want to sound too optimistic,” he said, “but I think there would be a lot of people interested in financing this project.”