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Mashpee’s Land-Into-Trust Under BIA Review

Notice is a major step forward in Tribe’s pursuit of an initial reservation

The end of May finds the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe two steps closer to realizing its dream of having an acknowledged homeland and pursuing economic development through Indian gaming.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has announced it is moving forward with its review of the tribe’s application for an initial reservation on land in Mashpee, Massachusetts, and in the City of Taunton, Massachusetts. Earlier in the month, Mashpee and Taunton reached an intergovernmental agreement on a destination resort casino in the city.

Letters from the BIA’s eastern region on May 30 notified Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick and Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye that the agency is considering the tribe’s fee-to-trust land acquisitions. The BIA also posted a notice in the Federal Register May 31 announcing its intention to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement “for the conveyance into trust” of 170.1 acres of land currently held by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in the Town of Mashpee, Massachusetts, and 146.39 acres of land in the City of Taunton. The purpose of the proposed action is to help provide for the economic development of the Tribe and to create a tribal land base.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose ancestors met the first wave of English settler colonists on the shores of Cape Cod in 1620, received federal acknowledgment in the spring of 2007, more than three decades after filing its petition for federal status.

The tribe will continue to use the land in Mashpee as its tribal government headquarters, for housing and other nation-building needs. The tribe proposes building a $500 million destination resort casino in Taunton. Plans include a Class III gaming facility, a hotel, parking structures, restaurants, retail stores and other facilities.

“This is a significant step by the BIA since it demonstrates a move forward in taking the Tribe’s lands into federal trust, including for gaming purposes,” Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a press release. “This initial reservation will allow our Tribe to fulfill our duty to provide services to our nation, including housing, health care, education, job training, cultural preservation and more in Mashpee. In addition, this is a significant step forward in our plans to create jobs and revenue for our Tribe, the City of Taunton, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through development of a destination resort casino in Taunton. This is a monumental day for our Tribe, and is due to the hard work and perseverance of Tribal leadership and Tribal citizens, especially our Elders, who have never wavered from the goal of achieving the true sovereignty and economic self- sufficiency that will come with this initial reservation.”

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The state and local governments have 30 days to provide the BIA with written comments on the pending land-into-trust acquisitions’ impacts on regulatory jurisdiction, property taxes and special assessments. The public will have an opportunity for input at two public scoping meeting to identify potential issues, alternatives, and content for inclusion in the Environmental Impact Statement. The meetings will take place on June 20 at the Taunton High School and June 21 at the Mashpee High School; both meetings will begin at 6 p.m.

On May 17, Cromwell and Hoye announced that they had negotiated an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for the development of the tribe’s destination resort casino in Taunton. The IGA was required by the state before the tribe could move forward with its casino plans.

The agreement will provide approximately $33 million in up front mitigation payments and a minimum annual payment to the city of approximately $13 million. The agreement includes:

  • Payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the land to be taken into trust of approximately $250,000, for the taxable value of the land on the day the land is taken into trust plus a 3% increase annually for ten years, after which the payment continues as long as the IGA is in effect. This PILOT compensates the city in full for the loss of the property from its tax rolls.
  • General mitigation payment of $1.5 million within 30 days of General Court approval of a compact between the Tribe and the Commonwealth.
  • Annual general mitigation payment of 2.05% of slot revenue, but not less than $8 million per year.
  • Specific mitigation payments covering impacted services (fire protection, police, water, sewer, schools, etc.) estimated at approximately $14,754,000 in the first phase of the destination resort casino and $720,000 in the second phase. In addition, the Tribe will provide annual payments to mitigate increased operating costs, estimated at $4,790,000 per year.
  • Mitigation of traffic impacts, with approximately $10 million allocated for improvements to a nearby intersection and approximately $5 million will be allocated to traffic calming measures.
  • Funding for compulsive gambling services in the amount of $60,000 upon opening and $30,000 per year thereafter.
  • The Tribe will make whole certain local charities that currently rely on gaming (bingo) revenue.

The agreement also promises communication and cooperation between the tribe and the city, and establishes a nine-member advisory committee to make recommendations on the implementation of the IGA. The Tribe promises in the IGA to adopt stringent building, health and safety codes, work in good faith to hire local residents and use local vendors. The tribe estimates that the project will provide 1,000 construction jobs with a payroll of $230 million and 2,500 permanent jobs in phase one of the operation at an annual payroll of $80 million. The project is subject to a referendum in the city scheduled for June 9th.

Gov. Patrick signed a gaming bill last November that allows three resort casinos and one slot parlor to be developed in the state. The bill includes a carve-out for one Indian resort casino. Among the bill’s restrictions are a July 31, 2012, deadline for a tribal-state compact to be completed, or the state will seeks bids from other developers in southeastern Massachusetts.

Related:Mashpee Unveils $500 Million Resort Casino Plan: 'Project First Light'