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Officials may block putting land into trust

ACME – Local officials may try to block the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians from putting 159 acres of agricultural land along M-72 into federal trust for a potential winery or wind farm.

Placing the vacant Acme Township land into trust removes it from local tax rolls and would save the band the $19,500 a year it now pays in property taxes. It also eliminates local zoning and building regulations. Both Acme Township and Grand Traverse County were notified earlier this month about the request by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and have until Aug. 2 to comment.

Some county board members want to use the trust application as a prod to restart stalled talks with the tribe over property taxes on tribal properties. County officials want a written agreement that local taxing entities would receive payments equivalent to a property tax levy on buildings located on new trust land.

“We are trying to engage the tribe and we are getting nowhere,” said Larry Inman, county board chairman. “Until such time as we have an agreement we are not in favor of putting any more land into trust.”

County, township, and tribal officials began discussing a tax collection pact in 2008 when the band put land next to its Turtle Creek Casino into trust with plans for a retail shopping complex on the site. But the talks and development plans both stalled.

The county board hasn’t voted on the trust application, and Inman said he doesn’t know if county opposition would impact the federal government’s decision.

“It’s probably a rubber stamp kind of deal,” Inman said.

Acme Township officials will take a different approach in their comments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding the tribe’s application.

“We do want to get that agreement finalized,” said Sharon Vreeland, township manager. “Entering into it is something the tribe said they would do, and we would like to see it get done, but I’m not planning for the letter I draft for the board to have an oppositional tone.”

Vreeland said she was told by tribal attorney Bill Rastetter the band remains interested in working out a tax agreement and expects it will get resolved.

A draft of the tax agreement was added by Rastetter in June to the tribe’s 2011 trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The latest trust proposal covers property on the north side of M-72 between Bates Road and the Traverse Bay RV Park on the east. It is not contiguous to either the trust land adjacent to Turtle Creek Casino nor the tribal-owned Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Al Pedwaydon, the new tribal chairman, said he understands the application for trust status has been an ongoing issue for a couple years. He said there are no definite plans for the property at this time.

Pedwaydon referred other questions to Rastetter, who was not available for comment.

The trust application is for economic development and identifies possible uses including wind and solar energy as well as biomass energy production. Tribal officials also commissioned a study for a winery on the property, and some of it could be used as tribal housing, according to the application.

Both the township and county have requested an extension to reply to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Acme board doesn’t meet again until Aug. 14 when it will decide on its response. The county wants more time to study the issue.

“Thirty days is not enough time to determine what the impact will be when you take this property off the tax rolls or determine how it will impact the county,” said John Sych, director of county planning and economic development.