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Star Lake Casino on hold as White Earth Nation reviews finances

The casino project proposed by the White Earth Chippewa Band would place a 270-acre complex on the shores of Star Lake in Otter Tail County. Opposition to the proposal from area residents has been intense since the idea was first floated in 2015. Brian Hansel / Forum News Service

The White Earth Nation has temporarily stepped back from the issue of pursuing a casino complex on Star Lake in Minnesota's Otter Tail County.

June elections on the White Earth Reservation saw Alan Roy defeat incumbent Tara Mason 1,134 to 1,082 for the position of secretary-treasurer. Raymond Auginaush Sr. won his representative race with Steven Clark by only four votes.

"We've got some new people," Acting Chief Executive Officer Ron Valiant said. "They put on hold a lot of our projects going on right now so they can figure out where the money is coming from, how the budgets are and everything like that. There was a lot of monies going out, so they are just trying to find out if we have the monies to move forward on some of these projects."

While Auginaush supposedly won his bid for a place on the council, the close vote has sparked a recount and now an appeal, leaving his status in limbo. He is presently being referred to as a representative-elect.

"What I know was that there was an election up at the White Earth Nation June 12," Otter Tail County District 2 Commissioner Wayne Johnson said last week. "The two people who got elected to the council were vocally opposed to the Star Lake Casino."

The White Earth Nation announced plans in the fall of 2015 of building a casino, hotel and convention center on 14.7 acres of trust land east of Maplewood State Park, which is east of Pelican Rapids, for their benefit by the federal government. The band had purchased an additional 270 acres of land adjacent to the trust land for a parking lot, an RV park and other amenities.

Star Lake is one of Otter Tail's largest lakes with 4,453 acres of water surface. Like many of Otter Tail's big lakes, it is heavily populated by both summer and year-round residents.

The idea of a large gambling complex being built on the lake prompted an opposition group, the Star Lake Concerned Citizens Group, to be formed. According to the group's website, the concerns they have stated include water and noise pollution, a potential for harm to the lake's aquatic population and a strain on law enforcement services and traffic routes. The group also believes the construction of complex would affect other area lakes and the residents in Star, Dora and Dead Lake Townships.