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White Earth Nation to build casino on Star Lake in Otter Tail County

OTTER TAIL COUNTY, Minn. – The White Earth Nation said Friday that it plans to build a casino on the shore of Star Lake in Otter Tail County, though not all residents in the out-of-the-way neighborhood are excited by the news.

The proposed site for the casino is near County Highway 41 on the west side of Star Lake, which is south of the White Earth Indian Reservation between Pelican Rapids and Dent.

If the project moves ahead as planned, it will be the White Earth Nation's third casino under the umbrella of the Shooting Star Casino, Hotel and Entertainment company. The tribe, which already owns the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, plans to finish building a casino near Bagley this spring.

Construction of the Star Lake casino is slated to start next year, with a projected opening date of sometime in 2017, Shooting Star said in a news release.

Plans for the casino call for slot machines, gaming tables, a ballroom, a buffet and a bar and grill, as well as a gift shop, deli, hotel and RV park, according to the company.

Shooting Star said the Star Lake casino will help fund educational, health, welfare and environmental services for the tribe. The casino will also create jobs for tribal members and others, giving an economic boost to the tribe and the region, the company said.

"Our hope is that the new casino will help draw more visitors to the area and make the Star Lake and Dent region a true destination as well as improve business growth," Bill Marsh, general manager of Shooting Star Casino, said in a statement.

But the prospect of more visitors doesn't please some lake residents. Carolyn Herron, president of the Star Lake Property Owners Association, said she's alarmed by the plans for a casino, which she believes is out of character for the quiet, low-key area.

"This is a neighborhood of summer lake cabins and family-owned resorts," she said. "I really don't know what kind of neighbor a casino would be."

She said her group educates lake dwellers on how to be good stewards of the environment, and she's not sure if a casino would be open to such teachings.

"We're particularly worried about their lakeshore property," she said. "I don't know if they'd use the lake heavily."

Lee Mindemann, who lives on the lake, said he worries the casino could lead to more boat traffic that would threaten the lake's ecosystem.

"Another 100 or 200 boats on this lake just amplifies or exaggerates the potential for us to get" invasive species like zebra mussels, he said. "We're pretty much a pristine lake and don't have any of those issues and don't want any."

Mindemann, who's on the Star Lake Township Board, said he questions the wisdom of putting a casino in such a remote spot. "You've got no road infrastructure to get here," he said.

Herron said she has heard rumors about a casino since the spring and that just recently a local resident came across minutes from a February meeting of the White Earth Tribal Council showing that council members had approved the Star Lake site.

White Earth spokesman Gary Padrta confirmed the tribe's plans to build a casino on Star Lake. But he declined to share other details, saying that members of the tribal council were unavailable to be interviewed.

The Star Lake Township Board has drawn a link between the casino project and two recent sales of land: a 218-acre tract purchased for $1.95 million in July and a 12-acre plot that sold for $350,000 in September.

The land, which is largely east of Otter Tail County Road 41 and south of 380th Street, is near 15 acres of land kept in a trust by the federal government for the tribe, according to the board's website. The land was bought by the Central Minnesota Land Co. of Detroit Lakes, the board's website said.

The only name listed for the company is Joe Plumer, whose name is mentioned in the tribal council's meeting minutes, the board's website stated. A phone message left for Plumer on Friday evening was not returned.

Otter Tail County officials said Shooting Star has not involved the county in planning the casino nor has the company applied for any land-use permits.

"Until we get a better sense of the proposal, it's hard to say what Otter Tail County's role would be," said Nicholas Leonard, the county's director of tourism and economic development.

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