Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 26, 2013

Feds approve land trust for Grand Traverse Band

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Acme Township lost a bit of taxable land, and a local tribe gained the first chunk of what its leaders hope will be a larger swath of property.

Federal authorities approved the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians’ request to place 12 acres north of M-72 and east of Arnold Road into trust. Lands in trust are owned by the federal government on behalf of tribal entities and cannot be taxed by local units of government.

Acme Township officials expected the BIA to approve the Band’s request.

“We’re not surprised,” township Supervisor Jay Zollinger said. “We didn’t put up a big protest.”

County and township officials expressed concerns to the BIA about the possibility of lost tax revenue if the properties are developed while in trust, as well as the cost of county and township services for that property.

Tribal officials responded to county and township concerns in December. Their response said the tribe’s annual allocation of gambling revenue to local units of government -- more than $10 million in the last 16 years -- far outweighs any tax revenue lost from placing the lands in trust.

The loss “is insignificant compared to the Grand Traverse Band’s demonstrated ongoing commitment to assist the county and township government as well as the local schools,” the tribe wrote in a letter to the BIA.

Acme Township overall has benefited from the relationship with the Grand Traverse Band, Zollinger said. This year alone the tribe awarded the township two grants for E coli testing and beach grooming.

“We have, as a township, in road improvements and 2 percent money, been treated very well by the tribe,” Zollinger said.

Tribal officials in December also suggested the township and county form a committee with the Band to address any issues that effect all three entities.

But county Commissioner Larry Inman said that idea fell apart because the tribe wanted the parties to enter a written agreement to resolve any disputes with arbitration or mediation.

County officials didn’t like that deal, so for now the county and tribe have agreed to leave dialogue to county Administrator Dave Benda and tribe Chairman Al Pedwaydon, who meet monthly.

“We’re relying now on having Dave meet with Al,” Inman said. “If there are things to work out, those two can deal with it and then bring recommendations back.”

John Petoskey, the tribe’s general counsel, declined comment.

The BIA is reviewing a second request by the Band to place nearly 160 acres of land adjacent to the 12-acre plot in trust.

The parcels together generated roughly $19,500 in taxes in 2011, county documents state. The county received 15 percent of that money, about $2,900.