The future of prime North Lawrence property bought by an Oklahoma-based Indian tribe is still in a wait-and-see mode, but at least one local government has started to assess what impact development of the land could have on its constituents and services.
The Delaware Tribe of Indians has not yet filed paperwork to put into trust 87 acres near the Kansas Turnpike interchange at North Lawrence, said Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Placing the property into a federal trust is likely to be one of the first steps by the tribe to develop the recently purchased property.
"There is a definite process they will have to follow," Darling said. The process is also likely to provide insight into whether the tribe has interest in using the highly-visible property for a casino.
Darling said the federal government has two different processes for putting Indian land into federal trust: one that would allow gaming in the future and one that would not. The tribe will need to decide at the beginning of the process which approval to seek.
When tribal leaders confirmed their purchase of the property just east of the North Lawrence interchange late last month, they declined to say specifically whether they planned a casino for the land. Instead they said the tribe is exploring plans for housing, child care and a medical clinic to serve the state's American Indian population. Other Kansas newspapers have reported that the tribe has sought property to relocate its tribal headquarters from Oklahoma to Kansas.
The potential for a casino on the property is an issue because in 2000 the Delaware tribe expressed strong interest in building a casino complex on 80 acres in the same vicinity in North Lawrence.
An attempt to reach a tribal leader Monday was unsuccessful.
At least one area government is starting to explore how a major development by the Indian tribe, whether it's a casino or a tribal headquarters, would affect its operations. Jefferson County Rural Water District No. 13 alerted patrons through its monthly newsletter that it has asked its attorney to start researching issues a large development would present for the water district, which stretches into Douglas County and could include the land along the turnpike.
But Mike Stieben, board chairman for the water district, said the district hasn't had any contact with the tribe yet.
"We will have our attorney at our next meeting to discuss a variety of issues with us," Stieben said. "We want to make sure our patrons are well represented in any process that happens. We don't know what is going to happen there, but it sure seems like something is going to happen with that land."
Stieben said it may be more likely that any future development on the site would seek to receive water and sewer service from the city of Lawrence. But he said that's not a foregone conclusion, and the district doesn't want to be caught unprepared for any future development since it would be likely to require a significant expansion of infrastructure in the district.
Stieben said he has started to hear more comments from district patrons as news of the Indian tribe purchase has begun to spread. He said if the project ends up including a casino component, that likely will spark concern among many of the rural residents his district serves.
"It will change the rural character of our area," Stieben said. "That's what I'm hearing from people. We may not be able to do anything about that, but those are the type of concerns I'm hearing. I'm not taking a position on it right now."
Darling, the spokeswoman for the BIA, said local governments will be given a chance to provide comment on whether the land ought to be put into federal trust. But local governments don't play a formal role in voting on whether the land should be put in trust, she said. Instead, officials with BIA and the Department of Interior make that determination in consultation with the governor's office.