The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Gogebic County Board backs support letter for casino


Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

WAKEFIELD TOWNSHIP chairman John Cox, left, Indianhead-Blackjack Mountains owner Art Dumke, center, and Barry Bolich, general manager of Indianhead, listen to the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.

BESSEMER - The Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on a 5-1 vote approved a letter of "strong" support Wednesday for plans to develop a convention center-casino at Indianhead Mountain in Wakefield.

The action came after a motion from commissioner George Peterson, of Watersmeet.

The lone dissenting vote was from Joe Bonovetz, of Bessemer, who said he would like to see a copy of the letter of support before voting on it.

The board was urged to support the project by Wakefield Township Chairman John Cox, Indianhead-Blackjack Mountains owner Art Dumke and Barry Bolich, general manager of Indianhead.

"The goal is to get the community to work on one project that could spill into other projects," Dumke said. He said the convention center-casino would also benefit Big Powderhorn Mountain near Bessemer.

Cox said the $22 million project would have to clear many hoops, but it's encouraging that there's support from the Governor's office.

Cox explained the casino would be on tribal trust land on the top of the mountain. It would be owned and operated by the Lac Vieux Desert (Watersmeet) band of Chippewa and the casino wouldn't be subject to taxes.

The governor, federal government and Bureau of Indian Affairs would need to approve the casino.

A feasibility study is under way and should be completed within about six weeks, said Bolich, who has been meeting with the Watersmeet tribe about the plans.

The so-called 2 percent money that would be derived from gambling profits could possibly be spent to bolster law enforcement in the county, Cox suggested. "I'm sure we can all think of ways to spend that money," Cox said.

He noted having the tribe involved would insure the road to Indianhead off U.S. 2 would be improved.

Cox said the condition of what area residents perceive as the "narrow, curvy" roadway and increased traffic that would result from the casino was the top item of concern at a public hearing on the project.

Bolich said he's concerned about whether the demand for 200 jobs could be filled locally. He said he has had a tough time this year hiring employees at Indianhead and there are job openings as the ski season kicks off.

Bonovetz said he has heard support from the public for a convention center at Indianhead, but not for the casino.

Other commissioners said, however, that area residents indicate they are elated they won't have to drive the 60 miles to the casino in Watersmeet.

Bolich said plans are to start construction of the convention center and casino in the spring of 2016.

He told the county board that 96 percent of the ski customers last year at Indianhead came from out of state and the average income was $81,000.

Bolich said water, sewer and natural gas must be considered. Gogebic Range Water Authority upgrades and natural gas from Xcel Energy are recent pluses, he said, and grant money could likely be obtained by through the tribe for a sewer system upgrade.

Bolich said Dumke owns 1,200 acres, so land is not a problem.

The ski hill representatives said if no casino is built, there most likely would be no convention center, although the current buildings at Indianhead would be renovated.

Peterson said the pluses in bringing a casino-convention center to the county outweigh any minuses.

Jim Oliver, of Ironwood, arrived at the meeting late and did not vote on the letter of support, which will be sent to the Governor's office.


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