Thursday, July 31, 2008

Malik's legal appeal for right to develop houses and a marina on Harsens Island moves forward


Harsens Island development appeal heading for final pretrial

By Nicole Tuttle
Voice Reporter

The appeals process for two development companies looking to build a housing project on Harsens Island will take another step forward.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Daniel J. Kelley ruled last week that the final pretrial hearing for Grand Pointe Development LLC and Lucky 7 Development LLC will be Aug. 25.

The date was set after Kelly heard the pretrial for the case July 21 in chambers. The case originally had been scheduled for Circuit Judge Peter Deegan's courtroom, but was moved after a conflict of interest surfaced when attorneys involved learned that Deegan's court reporter, Kathy Schweikart, is a member of the Clay Township Planning Commission.

The case is in court because the developers are appealing the planning commission's decision to reject a request for a special land use. The developers planned to create a 348-unit cluster housing development on the former Boys' Club property on the North Channel. The developers appealed the decision to the circuit court March 19.

Clay Township John McNamee said the judge will want to review documents, such as possibly the minutes of the planning commission meeting and what the commission considered before rendering a decision.

He said that he and Gary Fletcher, attorney for Grande Pointe Development LLC and Lucky 7 Development LLC in the case, will need to determine which documents relating to the planning commission decision can be submitted to the judge for review.

"The court wants us to reach an agreement as to what is the appropriate record for review," McNamee said.

Once this process is complete, the judge will set a schedule for attorneys to submit briefs, Fletcher said.

In addition to the appeal, developers applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Land and Water Management Division in 2007 for dredging and a marina operating permit. The project would impact 16.6 total acres of wetland with excavation and fill activities. Existing roadways would also be impacted. The DEQ will make a decision on the permit on Aug. 28.

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NOTE: Grande Pointe Development LLC and Lucky 7 Development LLC are entities controlled by Detroit-casino syndicator and developer Michael J. Malik, Sr. Mike Malik shares an office at the headquarters of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. and has partnered with Mrs. Marian Ilitch on various casino ventures.

Developer still in pursuit of Harsens Island Bridge despite set backs


Harsens Island bridge stalled in negotiations

By Nicole Tuttle
Voice Reporter

Developers of the Harsens Island bridge [aka Harsens Island Crossing] are currently negotiating roadblocks to their progress with the Department of Environmental Quality.

The bridge, which would link the Algonac mainland to Harsens Island over the North Channel, is the project of the Detroit International Bridge Company. The private company seeks to build the bridge as a commercial venture.

The Harsens Island Transportation Authority met with the bridge developers July 15 at the Harsens Island Lions Hall. Don Verslyte, a member of the HITA who led the meeting, said that Bridge Company President Dan Stamper told HITA they were working to overcoming the objections that caused the DEQ to deny them a permit to build the bridge. The DEQ denied the permit last year.

One objection was the question of riparian rights. The bridge plans interfered with some privately owned property. Verslyte said Stamper told the HITA they had overcome this by purchasing a marina.

Another objection related to interference with the spawning ground of sturgeon. Verslyte said Stamper told the HITA there was no spawning ground where the bridge would cross.

"They resolved that by taking pictures of the bottom," Verslyte said.

Verslyte said Stamper told the HITA the company would be willing to provide funds to help build a spawning ground on Dickinson Island.

The third objection related to interference with wetlands on the island side of the bridge. Verslyte said Stamper told HITA the issue was still under discussion with the DEQ, but the company anticipates resubmitting for a permit with the U.S. Coast Guard within 45 days.

Stamper did not return messages by Voice deadline.

Robert McCann, a spokesman for the DEQ, said the company has not actively pursued an appeal of the denial. "They have the option to appeal or start over with new plans," he said.

Discussions of the issues, particularly the sturgeon and wetlands issues, are still under discussion with the DEQ and the Department of Natural Resources, McCann said.

"We have been discussing the issue with them," he said. "We have heard both for and against from the public."

The DNR is still in discussions with the developer regarding the sturgeon issue, said Mary Dettloff, a DNR public information officer. She said that the DNR has caught sturgeon in the area.

"There would be a loss of aquatic habitat if the bridge is built," Dettloff said.

Dettloff said the DNR has worked with other developers in the past to create "mitigation for loss of habitat" and that would be part of the permit process.

One area that the HITA is concerned with is working out an agreement with the company to control toll rates, Verslyte said.

"That is a problem we have now with the ferry system," Verslyte said.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

U.S. Sen Stevens indicted; Rep. Young still under investigation on related matters



Ted Stevens, the senior senate Republican from Alaska, has been indicted on seven counts of making false statements for failing to disclose on his Senate financial disclosure forms hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts he received in Alaska over seven years. He will not be arrested but will be allowed to turn himself in.

The FBI investigation leading to the indictment began almost two years ago when the FBI raided Steven's son, Alaskan State Sen. Ben Stevens, and others. At the center of the investigation were executives from VECO who have plead guilty to bribing at least four legislators includin the younger Stevens. Ted Stevens' Road To Ruin

Wall Street Journal reporters Evan Perez and Jim Carlton write that the investigation has upended Alaska state politics, casting scrutiny on Sen. Stevens -- who is running for re-election this year -- and on his congressional colleague, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who is also under investigation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Michigan tribe was first to own a casino in the U.S.; backers seeking third casino

According to the tribe's official Web site, on July 4, 1984, the Bay Mills Indian Community opened the first tribally owned casino in the United States.

Today the Bay Mills Indian Community operates two casinos on its Reservation near Brimley, Michigan: the Bay Mills Casino and Kings Club Casino.

Detroit casino syndicators Michael Malik and Marian Ilitch have been trying, unsuccessfuly, to site a third casino for the Bay Mills Indian Community in the greater Detroit area, several hundred miles off the Reservation, since the mid-1990s.

Ilitch / Shinnecock Indian Nation casino update


Inching Ahead on a Tribal Casino Agreement


CARRYING on a tradition of nearly four centuries of rocky relations, whites and native Indians here have been feuding in and out of court for the last few years over a proposed casino and a compensation claim for land the tribe says was stolen.

Now a glimmer of compromise has enticed leaders from both sides into talks that could result in Long Island’s first casino.

Some Suffolk County legislators have met with Shinnecock tribal trustees about finding an alternate site for a casino away from Indian lands in the Hamptons, where it has been proposed and which officials adamantly oppose.

Many hurdles remain, especially finding an acceptable location. But if that can be accomplished, Shinnecock leaders say they are eager to also resolve their land lawsuit.

“A global settlement would be very welcome,” Frederick C. Bess, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation trustees, said in an interview. “We want to sit down and negotiate something amicable to all of us, a win-win. We’re always trying to be good neighbors. We have to live together on Long Island.”

The overtures have included a pro-casino presentation by tribal members to a county legislative committee and a tour of the reservation in late June by the Legislature’s presiding officer, William J. Lindsay, and its economic development chairman, Wayne R. Horsley, both Democrats.

“I’ve always been a proponent of gaming,” Mr. Lindsay said in an interview. “A facility on the East End is not the smartest thing, because the roads and infrastructure couldn’t support it and the communities are opposed. But Suffolk is a big place, with lots of arteries like the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway and places where it might go, including downtowns that need revitalization.”

What sparked the new talks was progress in the Indians’ decades-long attempt to win federal recognition. They now predict winning recognition in a year or two.

That official status, along with state approvals that the tribe would seek, could legally entitle the Shinnecock to a casino on their reservation — or a site purchased elsewhere.

Anticipating that likelihood, officials like Mr. Lindsay say they want to work with the tribe to find the best location.

Proponents say a casino would generate thousands of jobs, tax revenue and an economic ripple totaling billions of dollars. Critics doubt whether any community would welcome a casino and dispute its local benefits.

The talks stem from two federal court cases involving a 2003 Shinnecock attempt to build a casino here and the tribe’s 2005 land claim. The Shinnecock lost the first legal rounds but appealed. Both cases are pending.

The tribe says it deserves compensation for its former territories and desperately needs a casino for self-sufficiency.

Many families on the reservation struggle financially. Their plight is underscored by the surrounding opulence of the modern Hamptons, with waterfront estates and summering celebrities and tycoons — on former Indian land. Some garages of the rich are bigger than the homes on the reservation.

The Shinnecock trace their roots back 10,000 years. They welcomed the first English arrivals here in 1640, but relations soured, and the Shinnecock were forced to sell land. Historians say dubious deals manipulated the tribe out of most of its territory.

“Everything was stacked against the Indians from the beginning,” said John A. Strong, a retired history professor at Long Island University.

Eventually the Indian presence here shrank to an 800-acre peninsula in Shinnecock Bay, the reservation where nearly half the 1,300 current members live.

“On one side of the street you have basic homes, and on the other side you have multimillion-dollar mansions,” Mr. Bess said.

While some Shinnecock have prospered as doctors or lawyers, many are unemployed or subsist on meager incomes.

“They really need jobs,” said John Robert Zellner, former cochairman of the Southampton Town anti-bias task force. “Some people are still living in houses with dirt floors and leaky roofs. There’s a lot of poverty.”

A few Indians profit by claiming a tribal exemption to sell untaxed cigarettes at small tobacco shops along Montauk Highway. State officials have threatened to crack down, and a grocery chain has sued to stop tax-free sales.

The tribe explored various ventures that never materialized: windmills, cellphone towers and a waste depot. They opened a shellfish hatchery that was wiped out by the brown tide and is now back in operation.

Inspired by lucrative Indian casinos around the country, the Shinnecock finally pushed to pursue one with a powerful ally: Gateway Casino Resorts in Detroit, whose principals include Marian Ilitch, owner of the MotorCity Casino. Her family’s enterprises include Little Caesars Pizza and the Detroit Tigers.

Southampton officials recoiled in 2003 when the Shinnecock cleared some trees and had a casino groundbreaking at Westwoods, a 79-acre Indian property west of the reservation. The town spent $3 million fighting in United States District Court to block the project, saying it would be disastrous for traffic, the environment and development.

Upping the ante in 2005, the tribe went to federal court seeking compensation from the state and others for nearly 3,000 acres taken in 1859. The land now includes Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the National Golf Links of America and the Shinnecock Hills community.

Eventually one judge rejected the land claim, and another ruled that Westwoods was not part of the original reservation and thus the tribe had no immunity from local zoning laws. The tribe appealed both rulings, and the suits are awaiting appellate decisions on upstate Oneida Indian cases.

One consolation in the disputes was Judge Thomas C. Platt’s finding that the Shinnecock are a valid tribe, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not take that as binding. But in May the federal government said it might expedite its decision on tribal status.

In the search for an alternate casino location, the Suffolk legislators have declined to specify potential sites. Southampton’s new town supervisor, Linda A. Kabot, remains opposed to a casino here but suggested two possibilities, Calverton or Yaphank. If the casino were in the town, she said it should be in the west, around Gabreski Airport.

Several people in the dispute have described the Westwoods groundbreaking and the land claim as leverage to get a casino elsewhere. The tribe’s chairman, Mr. Bess, said: “We would negotiate for a better site somewhere else on Long Island — the closer to New York City the better. That’s where the population is.”

One Hamptons casino opponent, Marion Boden, former president of a local civic group, said that she sympathized with the search for another site and sensed that the backlash has moderated. “A collaborative effort would be a dream,” she said.

But “not-in-my-backyard” resistance will be a formidable obstacle, said Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., a Republican whose district includes the reservation. “If we’re not the Nimby capital of the world, we’re in the top five,” he said.

Also voicing doubts, County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat, said, “It would be a hard sell for me to say a casino is the best way to go.” He disputed whether casinos benefit communities.

Mr. Bess is firm about the benefits to the tribe. “We just have to survive,” he said. “We’re fighting to preserve our culture.”

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