FRUITPORT TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Governor Gretchen Whitmer will likely request an extension on a casino project in Muskegon County according to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema Larry Romanelli.
In an interview with FOX17, Romanelli said recent conversations with the governor and her staff indicated she was likely to ask the U.S. Department of Interior for a six-month extension rather than approve or reject the project proposal.
The U.S. Department of Interior would also have to approve the extension, which Romanelli said is likely too.
“In someways, I don’t think it’s fair that we’ve had to wait 12 years," said Romanelli. "I’m not blaming the U.S. Department of Interior or the governor [ but ] I’m just saying, 12 years for something that we know we have the right to do."
Romanelli added, “I guess I take it with a grain of salt. After 12 years you kind of learn patience and we just roll with the flow.”
Whitmer faces a Dec. 16 deadline to make a decision. Since the U.S. Department of Interior signed off on the project in 2020, the governor’s stance on the $180 million casino and the 220-room hotel has not been clear. Without approval, the project is dead.
According to Romanelli, the governor listed ongoing, statewide issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and opposition from some other tribes and casino operators in her explanation why. He believes the governor will eventually sign off though, pointing to the tribal and regional interests.
Little River estimates the casino would attract two million visitors each year and add tens of millions of dollars with thousands of jobs to the area's economy. A portion of the profits would be used to expand critical services, such as healthcare and housing support, to the tribe's members in Muskegon, about 42 percent.
“I see the action, I see the people coming in and going out, I see a bright light and something that attracts people from US 31 and 96," said Romanelli. "I see everything."
Romanelli says a formal announcement is expected within the week. FOX17 has reached out to the governor’s office for a comment but has yet to hear back.
This is a developing story.