SHULLSBURG — The community of Shullsburg and the surrounding area showed up in force on Thursday evening at the proposed casino public scoping meeting held by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Most of those who spoke were in favor of the proposed Lac du Flambeau casino.
The purpose of the 90-minute meeting in the Shullsburg High School gymnasium was to provide a platform to express opinions, comments, concerns and questions about the casino project proposed by the tribe before the BIA conducts the required environmental impact study about the project.
“What the environmental impact study will cover is determined during tonight’s meeting,” said Scott Doig, regional environmental protection specialist of the Midwest regional office for the BIA.
Once the EIS has been completed a draft of the findings will be published in several locations and will be available online as well. People who submitted a comment card could indicate on the card if they wished to be notified when the draft of the study is published.
Meeting attendees were then invited to speak publicly in front of the crowd about their questions or comments. Speakers included Shullsburg Mayor Tom Lethlean, state Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green), state Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center), Lafayette County Board of Supervisors chairman Jack Sauer, Lac du Flambeau tribal president Tom Maulson, several tribal members, and several Shullsburg residents.
The majority of those who favored the casino touted job opportunities and the boost to Shullsburg’s economy.
Nathan Russell of Shullsburg claimed he was a “naysayer” on the project the first time the casino project was proposed 13 years ago. Now, “the thing I’m most excited about with this casino project … is the entrepreneurship and the opportunity for people in this community,” he said.
Shullsburg resident Jeff Doyle said the casino project would benefit Shullsburg in four major areas: the potential for entrepreneurship, housing development, the number of kids in the school district and an increase in tourism.
“I wish to express strong support for this project,” said Lafayette County Sup. Bob Boyle. He stated that the area needs to take action or sit back and watch the economy and county spiral downward.
Some citizens didn’t seem as convinced of the alleged benefits that the casino project would bring to the area.
Town of Shullsburg resident Michael Bradley said he has “real concerns with bringing in a casino.” He brought up several past business ventures of the Lac du Flambeau tribe that “raised red flags” for him, including a $50 million bond default connected to a failed riverboat casino facility in Mississippi.
Joseph Hunt, a consultant working with the LDF on the project and the media contact for the tribe, spoke at the scoping meeting and lightly touched on Bradley’s concern.
“I’ve seen how the tribes have used their resources and they haven’t always picked right,” said Hunt. “I know one of you was suggesting there were some bad business ventures, but that’s an issue for another time. But what I see is that the tribes have improved greatly in the last 25 years that we’ve had gaming and it’s allowed me to raise a family and make a good living and I know that jobs are going to help Shullsburg.”
The tribe has also stated on its website, www.ldftribe.com, under the FAQ page of the Shullsburg casino project that “the primary difference between the Shullsburg opportunity and some of our previous projects that have failed, is us.”
“Where we have depended on outside partners and allowed them to control things in the past we now will be in charge,” said the website under a heading that posed the question of how the Shullsburg project would be different from previous investments of the tribe. The website stated that Shullsburg would be directly controlled by LDF and that they would be using their own successful casino resort as a model.
“Our own internal controls, checks and balances, auditors and our own Gaming Commission will be incorporated into managing the project,” continued the statement from the webpage. “Even though approval of the project by the BIA and the Governor is not a sure thing, our ability to better understand and more efficiently and effectively manage this kind of business venture, is.”
Bradley was also concerned with a statement from a previous LDF informational meeting in Shullsburg that management positions at the proposed Shullsburg casino facility would be filled by tribal members, potentially leaving only the entry level, lesser paid positions for the people of the Shullsburg community.
In that earlier meeting, Maulson said he believed that about 85 percent of the 600 jobs that would be created by this facility would be filled by locals. LDF project manager Duane Chapman added, “There’s not going to be an exodus of tribal members coming to Shullsburg.”
That may be true, however, according to the tribe’s website, the facility will feature a Native American hiring preference.
“Shullsburg will be a jobs bonanza for LDF,” said the website’s FAQ page.
“The Tribal Council has mandated that the Shullsburg Project will be a LDF managed facility,” continued the webpage. “Where we have people with the skills and abilities, we will use our own resources first. From plumbers to slot techs, from backhoe operators to dealers, the goal is to tap our own labor pool and let them practice what they’ve been trained to do.”
Comment cards were available at the meeting for attendees of the meeting to fill out and hand back to the BIA representatives. Comment cards could also be taken with and then mailed to Doig at Bureau of Indian Affairs — Midwest Regional Office, 5600 W. American Blvd. Suite 500, Bloomington, MN 55437.
Comment cards will be accepted until the deadline of Aug. 30.