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Minnesota residents concerned tribe will use land for casino

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Native American tribe has asked that a large swath of land in eastern Minnesota be placed into a federal trust, saying the land will most likely be used for housing. But some nearby residents fear it could eventually become a casino.

Prairie Island Indian Community leaders told the St. Paul Pioneer Press there are no specific plans for the property but the tribe’s main priority is housing. The tribe bought the property, which spans more than 110 acres, for $4.4 million in 2015.

The tribe is asking the U.S. Department of the Interior to put the land into the Land Trust Program, which would make any development immune to local land-use and zoning ordinances.

West Lakeland Township officials say cheaper land could be used for housing and that the area the tribe is seeking is better suited for commercial use.

“I have talked with a lot of people, and not one of them said they want a casino to go in there,” said John McPherson, the township’s former supervisor.

The tribe owns the Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Red Wing, about 40 miles southeast of West Lakeland Township. Tribe members said building another casino is unlikely, but that possibility hasn’t been completely ruled out.

Tribal spokesman Eric Pehle noted that building a casino requires a separate permitting process, so a project of that sort could take years.

“It’s like path A and path B,” said Pehle. “It’s a very long, very hard process. They would have to go back and start from zero.”

Pehle also noted that the tribe recently built an assisted-care facility on a piece of property near Hastings, about 18 miles  south of the township, to provide more housing options. He said housing is the tribe’s priority.

The town board is taking comments on the proposal until Nov. 1.

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