Beloit council approves settlement with tribes

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Gina Duwe
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BELOIT--The Beloit casino project faces one fewer hurdle after the Beloit City Council approved a settlement with tribes Tuesday night over a land option lawsuit.

The city's settlement with the Bad River and St. Croix bands of the Chippewa tribe prohibits the tribes from interfering with the development of the Ho-Chunk Nation's casino project.

“That release is very, very significant,” Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said.

Eliminating another obstacle helps strengthen the Ho-Chunk's casino application, which is in the hands of the U.S. Department of Interior. Arft said the city is hopeful the federal government will rule on the application by the end of the year.

The city will pay the Chippewa tribes $50,000 as part of the settlement, which ends litigation over a parcel of land adjacent to the casino site at Willowbrook and Colley roads just off Interstate 90-39 near the state line.

The story starts more than a decade ago.

The Chippewa tribes and the city signed an intergovernmental agreement in 2001 for a casino at the same location. The city entered into an option agreement with the tribes for the tribes to buy from the city about 41 acres immediately west of the casino site, tying the sale to the successful development of a casino, Arft said.

Numerous efforts to build a casino never came to fruition, and in 2009 the federal government rejected the Chippewa tribes' proposal. Also that year, a developer sold the nearby casino land to the Ho-Chunk, Arft said.

The city and Ho-Chunk signed an intergovernmental agreement in early 2012, and the Chippewa tribes' option on the 41 acres was set to expire Dec. 31, 2012.

The Chippewa tribes contacted the city just days before the expiration to try to buy the land, Arft said.

“We immediately questioned it because it (a sale) was specifically tied to the casino,” Arft said.

The tribes contended they could buy the land even though there was no chance for them to build a casino, Arft said, and the tribes sued the city in Rock County Court last year.

The Gazette could not reach the Bad River or St. Croix for comment.

The city had planned in early 2013 to sell the land in question to the Ho-Chunk for parking, access driveways and other ancillary development to support the casino.

Rock County Judge Barbara McCrory ruled last fall in favor of the city but kept a temporary restraining order in place, giving the tribes time to appeal, Arft said.

The Chippewa tribes contacted the city about a settlement, and the city agreed so it can move ahead with the Ho-Chunk and avoid further legal fees, Arft said.

The $50,000 settlement would reimburse the Chippewa tribes the $46,000 they had made in option payments. The tribes would agree not to take any action to challenge or obstruct the current casino project, according to the settlement.

The tribes' governing bodies also need to approve the settlement.

Arft said the city will sell the land for $40,000 an acre to the Ho-Chunk and should close on the deal soon.

“That certainly helps strengthen their (casino) application,” he said, because they will own more land in the area.

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