A recent decision by a federal appellate panel is not the end of a battle to build a casino in Romulus.
The Feb. 4 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the U.S. Department of Interior that the Romulus property could not be considered an enhancement of existing tribal lands and thus couldn't be held in trust by the Department of Interior.
“We are deeply disappointed in the U.S. DOI's decision to deny our mandatory trust land petitions for Lansing and Romulus,” said Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians President Aaron Payment, “largely because it is based on a flawed legal analysis and because our Land Claims Settlement Act approved by the Congress of the United States in 1997 clearly requires that the applications be approved.”
The case stems from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe purchase of about 71 acres in Romulus, referred to as the Sibley Parcel, in 2015. The land was purchased using interest from the tribal “self-sufficiency fund” for the “enhancement of tribal lands” with plans to build a casino on the property.
Land acquired with federal fund interest is required to be “held in trust” by the Department of Interior.
The Romulus and Lansing sites are 287-miles and 365-miles from the tribal headquarters in Sault Ste. Marie, according to a rejection letter from Department of Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James Carson.
“The Tribe … has provided no evidence to support its argument,” Carson wrote in the letter. “… I conclude that the Tribe has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that its acquisition of the Parcels would effect an 'enhancement' of tribal lands as necessary to trigger the mandatory land-into-trust provision. Therefore, the applications are denied.”
Payment said the tribe is not giving up.
“The law is clear: The Secretary is required to accept these parcels in trust,” he said.
“The tribe is disappointed that a divided appeals court panel reversed a thoughtful decision at the district court level,” the tribal board of directors said in a statement.
“Our tribe must press forward in our efforts to hold the U.S. government to its mandatory trust obligations.”
Critics of the plan had argued that a Metro Detroit tribal casino would cut into revenues from the MGM Grand, MotorCity and Greektown casinos in Detroit. Michigan has 24 existing tribal casinos.