Federal meeting on Beloit casino plan delayed

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Graphic provided by Ho-Chunk Nation and Cuningham Group This rendering provided in December of 2017 shows what the planned casino and resort would look like from Interstate 90/39. The project is slated to be completed near Willowbrook Road and the interstate.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - An internal U.S. Department of the Interior meeting to evaluate the Ho-Chunk Nation casino-resort plan in Beloit has been postponed, according to Visit Beloit staff.

The meeting set for Friday in Washington, D.C. before the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was postponed as a new BIA official was added to the process, and was unable to review the project and other BIA items, according to information provided to Visit Beloit Chief Executive Officer Celestino Ruffini.

U.S. Department of the Interior Director of Public Affairs Nedra Darling said the department would "not be making any announcements of each phase of a package in the review process."

"There wasn't a negative or positive endorsement. It was just a postponement of the meeting today," Ruffini said. "It was nothing for or against the application, but that official was added late to the process."

Ho-Chunk administrative staff could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Ruffini estimated the meeting would happen some time in the near future, but was not provided with a new hearing date.

The $405 million casino-resort project must be placed on the federal registry to proceed, or face being placed on hold pending further review. The BIA also would need to publish a notice of availability on the draft environmental impact statement.

A public hearing regarding the tribe's plan would then be scheduled, according to staff from the office of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.

City of Beloit Director of Strategic Communications Sarah Millard said on Aug. 9 that a series of timelines would be triggered to begin the review and approval process, including the public hearing.

The original meeting was announced by the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 1 after administrative chamber staff appealed for Beloit's business community to urge U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, to support the plan in writing. In September of last year, Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, along with Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, sent a letter requesting President Donald Trump's administration take positive action on the Ho-Chunk plan.

If the plan wins BIA approval it would have to get the final approval of the Wisconsin governor. Governor Scott Walker has not signaled how he would rule on the Beloit plan. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers told the Beloit Daily News on Feb. 8 he would approve the Ho-Chunk casino project in Beloit. Evers and Walker will face off Nov. 6 in the general election.

Walker previously denied a similar casino development in the Kenosha area.

According to plans presented by Ho-Chunk on Dec. 22, the plan could add 1,500 new jobs in the area, include a 300-room hotel, a water park and a conference center-entertainment space.

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