2016-10-27 / Front Page

Backlash on Tribal project

Recall begun; concerns over environment
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

THE PROPOSED site of a new six-story hotel, casino and 105-slip marina is on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront in Peshawbestown. THE PROPOSED site of a new six-story hotel, casino and 105-slip marina is on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront in Peshawbestown. A political fight over economic development is brewing in Peshawbestown.

Members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) say the tribe is deeply divided over whether to move forward with a $56 million plan to construct a six-story hotel, new casino and 105-slip marina on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront.

The new facilities would be constructed on the bay behind the tribe’s gas station and convenience store on M-22 in Peshawbestown. Last year, the tribe clear cut a stand of timber at the northern end of the project in anticipation of work beginning on the marina.

The project was apparently brought to a halt by a tribal election and the need for further environmental study, however.

A decision whether to move forward with the plan will come from the GTB’s seven member Tribal Council and Economic Development Board. Earlier this year, tribal voters conducted a nearly clean sweep of the Tribal Council, replacing five incumbents. Many of those ousted in the election favored the new development.

One of the incumbents who remained after the tribe’s May 2016 election was Tribal Councilor Frank Wilson who, since then, has stepped down due to health reasons.

Frank Wilson was replaced by Tom Shomin who was voted out of office in May but was reappointed to his seat last month by a narrow majority of those remaining on the Tribal Council. Shomin’s return to the Tribal Council has returned the balance on the Tribal Council to a narrow majority in favor of the project, tribal sources said.

This week, tribal members submitted a recall petition for another Tribal Councilor, Mark Wilson, to be removed from his post. A distant cousin of former Tribal Councilor Frank Wilson, Mark Wilson has been a supporter of the development project.

The head of the tribe’s Election Board, Leonard Corey, told the Enterprise that a “clarity hearing” on a recall petition calling for Mark Wilson’s ouster will likely be held next week depending on the schedules of those involved.

Corey explained that only Mark Wilson may be the only one named on the recall petition because he is the only councilor serving on the Tribal Council for more than a year. Tribal election regulations state that tribal councilors may only become subject to recall after they have served a minimum of one year of their four-year terms on the council.

The only incumbent re-elected in the May 2016 election was Tribal Councilor David Arroyo – but he, too, is less than one year into his current term, Corey said.

Tribal Councilor Jane Rohl, a former tribal manager who was elected to her council seat earlier this year, has been sounding off in social media and distributing planning documents to tribal members, indicating her skepticism about the development plans.

Rohl did not return a phone call or reply to an email message from an Enterprise reporter seeking comment on this story. In fact, no seated member of the Tribal Council, including Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan, has responded to requests for comment on this story from the Enterprise.

Newly-elected Tribal Councilor Percy Bird sent an email to an Enterprise reporter this week asking whether McClellan had requested a retraction of a comment he made about the development project in a newspaper interview earlier this month.

In the interview, McClellan indicated he did not support the project because “the numbers just don’t make sense.” The story said the plan had been put on hold.

Neither Bird nor Tribal Manager Mary Pelcher replied to the newspaper’s request for comment on the project or the recall petition.

A former Tribal Councilor, Brian Napont, who now works in the tribe’s Natural Resources Department, said he was one of the tribal members behind the recall petition.

“The issue is…the degradation of the shoreline,” Napont said. “This is 180 degrees against the tribe’s policies and goals. The lake is spawning grounds. The tribe would fight this against anyone else.”

Because the proposed project would take place on sovereign tribal lands, the tribe will not be required to seek zoning or planning approval from Suttons Bay Township, which includes Peshawbestown, or any governing body other than the Tribal Council.

The tribe did, however, comply with Army Corps of Engineers requirements in 2013 for public input on its plans for a marina — which includes a pier to accommodate a car ferry and, possibly, Great Lakes cruise ships. In addition, the tribe will be required to comply with the state Construction Code for a proposed new casino and marina building on its reservation in Peshawbestown.

Leelanau County Construction Code head Steve Haugen confirmed this week that he had viewed preliminary plans the tribe has for a new six-story hotel, casino, and 105-slip marina in Peshawbestown. He said he does not have those plans in his possession.

“The tribe understands we will be conducting all the required state inspections on this project – assuming it moves forward,” Haugen said.

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