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Grand Forks council says it will work with tribe on casino

GRAND FORKS — Representatives of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa came to the Grand Forks City Council on Tuesday with a few details of a proposed casino they say could bring 1,000 jobs and $100 million in gaming revenue, along with a plea for cooperation.

“If we don’t work side by side and step by step to pursue this, of course it will never happen,” Tribal Chairman Richard McCloud told council members, who peppered the officials with skeptical questions about the project, similar to an earlier failed effort in Grand Forks.

In the end, the council members approved a resolution to take the initial step of presenting the tribe’s plan to the state, but after they had a long discussion of feasibility of the idea.

The project requires approval by the governor as well as a change in state law to allow a casino off a reservation. It would also need federal approval.

Council member Doug Christensen told McCloud that without being able to say how they could remove those obstacles, the casino’s prospects looked bad.

“Until (state law is) changed, there’s really nothing we have to talk about,” he said. “You’re blocked. You don’t get to go past go.”

Terry Bjerke, the only council member to say he opposed a casino, said its chances were next to none.

“I’d say you have less than a 1 percent chance of having the state law changed,” he said.

However, tribal attorney Richard Monette, said the tribe could not take any steps toward the casino without getting the council behind it from the beginning. Over the past 20 years, the tribe has been asked by people with money and land for a casino to bring one to Grand Forks, but it has been blocked by lack of local government support.

“If we can’t do this together, it cannot be done,” he said. “We won’t go without you.”

City Administrator Todd Feland told the council the tribe was only asking whether the council supported what could be a major economic development, the details of which would be developed later.

The council settled on a resolution, proposed by council member Bret Weber, to work with the tribe to present its plan to Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Depending on his response, the city and the tribe then would work together to develop a more detailed business plan and gauge public sentiment for it.

“We’re not giving tacit approval of a casino,” said Council President Hal Gershman. “This is to continue the dialogue and flesh out these things.”

Christopher Bjorke

Christopher Bjorke is the content editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He first worked for the Herald in 1997 and most recently since 2011. His jobs at the Herald have included covering local government, state politics, business and economics, and the health care industry. 

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