Beloit casino review still in the cards
If you go
What: Public hearing for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' environmental impact statement on the Ho-Chunk Nation's proposed Beloit casino
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13.
Where: Aldrich Middle School auditorium, 1859 Northgate Drive, Beloit.
To comment: The public also can submit written comments to Diane Rosen, Midwest Regional Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Midwest Region, Norman Pointe II Building, 5600 W. American Blvd., Suite 500, Bloomington, MN 55347. Writers should include their names, return addresses and "DEIS Scoping Comments, Ho-Chunk Nation Beloit Casino Project" on the first page of written comments. Written comments must arrive in the office by Wednesday, Dec. 26.
For more information: Contact Scott Doig, environmental protection specialist at the bureau's Bloomington office (above address), or call 612-725-4514.
BELOIT An environmental impact statement for the proposed Beloit casino is not expected to cause a delay in the casino's two-year application review by the federal government, officials said.
Just south of the border, however, a proposed Rockford, Ill., casino still awaits a legislative green light.
The Ho-Chunk in spring 2012 submitted its application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the off-reservation project in Beloit. The application review typically takes up to two years, and the Wisconsin governor has the final say on approval of the project.
Members of the public can give input on the environmental impact of the Ho-Chunk Nation's proposed Beloit casino during a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at Aldrich Middle School. The hearing is part of the bureau review process to identify physical issues related to the environment or traffic that should be evaluated, Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said.
The bureau is reviewing the nation's application to transfer 33 acres along Interstate 90/39 to trust land and build a casino, hotel and other supporting facilities.
Land examined before
An environmental impact statement was written about the same land in 2005 and revealed no big issues, Arft said. That statement was written for a casino project proposed by the St. Croix and Bad River Band Chippewa, Arft said.
Nothing was found during three archeological surveys at the site, which has been farmland for 150 years, he said.
"We don't anticipate there would be any big surprises, but this would be the time for anybody who has any issues or concerns to raise them," he said.
A developers agreement will be negotiated as the project "reaches the point where they have solid site plans," Arft said.
All local infrastructure and utility needs are in place or provided for in the intergovernmental agreement between the nation and the city/Rock County.
According to a news release from the bureau, the areas of environmental concern identified for analysis include: land resources, water resources, air quality, noise, biological resources, cultural resources, resource use patterns, traffic and transportation, public health/environmental hazards, public services and utilities, socioeconomics, environmental justice and visual resources/aesthetics.
"The range of issues and alternatives are open to revision based on comments received," the bureau stated.
A call to the Office of Public Affairs-Indian Affairs was not immediately returned.
The Ho-Chunk is proposing a 145,000-square-foot gaming facility. The project would include a 300-room hotel and a 35,000-square-foot convention center just off of Interstate 90/39 in Beloit.
While the area waits to hear whether the Beloit casino will be approved, eyes turn across the border where the future of a proposed Rockford casino remains uncertain.
A casino in Rockford has been talked about for years, but a project can't move forward without lawmakers and the governor expanding gaming in Illinois.
Illinois lawmakers approved legislation earlier this year to bring casinos to Chicago and four other areas, including Rockford. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill, saying it didn't include enough ethics protections, and he wanted money from the gambling expansion to go to education.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said recently that he and Quinn are "very close" to a deal for a Chicago casino.
Lawmakers return to session Jan. 2 and have until Jan. 9 before the next session begins.
"We look to be doing something that week" on a gaming bill, said Sen. Terry Link, chairman of the gaming committee.
The Illinois Senate has approved a new bill that is awaiting House approval, he said. It addresses some of the governor's concerns, he said.
"I feel a lot more comfortable with this," Link said. "We've had input with the governor. I think we might be able to get to where we need to be."
Quinn would have 60 days to sign the bill. While that would allow a casino in Rockford, a project still would need to be vetted and receive a license from the state gaming board. Link said the timeline of that process is up to the board, but he said he hoped it would be expedited.
Unlike the Beloit Indian gaming proposal, a Rockford casino would be built and run by a private developer, avoiding the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approval process required for the Beloit plan.
If a Rockford casino received the green light, the Ho-Chunk Nation has taken the position that it probably wouldn't change its Beloit plans, Arft said. If it would make any changes, it would be in the scale of the Beloit facility, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.