Officials in West Lakeland Township, Minn. have denied they approved a plan for a new water system with the aim of attracting a tribal casino to the area, rather than for the benefit of residents.
Twin Cities reports the claim is detailed in a lawsuit filed by a group of residents. They are calling for the removal from office of West Lakeland’s three township supervisors.
The plaintiffs claim the three officials secretly endorsed the infrastructure plan to pave the way for a casino that may one day be built by the Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC).
The proposed $154 million municipal water system was largely opposed by local residents, and has since been abandoned.
It would have been funded by a $850 million payout that the State of Minnesota negotiated with manufacturing giant 3M in 2018. That was to settle a lawsuit filed by the state alleging perfluorochemicals made by the company had escaped into the groundwater in the area.
The dangerous chemicals have been found in the drinking water in Washington County, which surrounds the township.
Wrench in the Works
But many West Lakeland residents were reluctant to submit to a centralized water system that would pipe water between hundreds of houses, many of which are a quarter-mile apart. The plan would cause major disruption, as all the roads in the township would have to be dug up and rebuilt.
West Lakeland homeowners derive their water from private wells, and counter the risk of pollution with water filters.
Nevertheless, according to the lawsuit, the township board met several times in 2020 to discuss the water system and a possible casino. The suit alleges this was done without properly informing the public, in violation of numerous open meeting laws.
Twin Cities reports that the board’s minutes for a March 5 meeting stated that advisors “suggested that West Lakeland may wish to contact the [PIIC] to inquire about their interest in a potential joint integrated water supply project.”
Casino in Pipeline?
PIIC bought a 112-acre parcel of land in Washington County in 2016 and applied for it to be placed into federal trust. That decision is pending.
The tribe already owns and operates the Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Red Wing, about 40 miles southeast of West Lakeland.
Its reservation is a stone’s throw from the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, a facility with two nuclear reactors.
PIIC said at the time the new land was for “economic development,” and it did not rule out building a casino there in the future. That’s provided its request to convert the land into sovereign territory is granted by the federal government.
The residents’ lawsuit demands the removal of the three township supervisors, Dan Kyllo, Dave Schultz, and Marian Appelt. The plaintiffs also want a referendum to increase the number of elected supervisors on the board from three to five.
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