Beloit holds public hearing for Environmental Impact Study, awaits a decision from BIA

By Ken Luchterhand

An Environmental Impact Study (EIS) hearing was the last hurdle before a decision would be made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on the proposed Beloit Ho-Chunk casino and conference center.
The hour-and-a-half meeting was held on Tuesday, Dec. 11, in Beloit and public comment on the draft environmental impact statement was accepted up to Dec. 24, according to an announcement by the BIA.
If the BIA decides to proceed with the plans, the approval of the casino and conference center plans will be given to Governor-elect Tony Evers for him to sign after he takes office.
“We’ve been informed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will release its findings in Spring 2019. If it moves forward from the federal level, then Governor-Elect Evers would have six to 12 months to review the project and make a final determination,” said Beloit Director of Strategic Communications Sarah Millard.
The proposed $405 million casino-resort project includes a casino, a 300-room hotel, an indoor waterpark, a conference center, an entertainment venue, and an adjacent retail development. It is uncertain at this point what additional businesses will be situated within the area.
“The hearing went well from our perspective with many people sharing their support for the project, including government officials from Janesville, Rock County, and Sauk County,” Millard said. “The city was proud to stand alongside members of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s legislature and staff in its support of this project,” she said.
There were a few people who objected to the casino portion of the project coming from a moral or religious background, she said.
“People signed up to speak and the floor was first given to the Ho-Chunk Nation and government officials. The City met with representatives of the Ho-Chunk Nation and chose to alternate speakers every other person to show our mutual support for each other,” Millard said.
“After that, the public was allowed to come to the mic one by one to state their comments. In the beginning, the BIA stated that the hearing was on the EIS, however, as a mentioned above, the BIA did not respond to individual comments,” Millard said.
A variety of city staff members spoke and some comments were delivered in writing.
“It was a sit-down presentation followed by an open-mic type hearing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs gave a brief presentation and overview of the project followed by public comment. The BIA staff did not respond to any of the comments and asked that individuals remain respectful – no clapping, cheering, booing or jeering. Everyone remained very respectful to that,” she said.
The Ho-Chunk Nation had eight speakers and the city had 11 speakers. The majority of the speakers were in support of the project.
 “When the governor-elect was campaigning, he made statements in support of the casino and resort project so we are hopeful for an expeditious decision so that the Nation can begin construction at the end of 2019, Millard said.
Ho-Chunk Nation District III Rep. Kathy DeCamp and District IV Rep. Shelby Visintin were in attendance.
“I have been working on the Beloit initiative since June 2015. I have lobbied in Washington, D.C. and spoken with the Department of Interior, and Wisconsin state representatives.” DeCamp said.
“The EIS hearing in Beloit is an event that is a necessary part of the timeline for Beloit Casino. I’m very hopeful and positive about the Beloit project,” DeCamp said. “The cooperation of Beloit City officials and the Beloit community is very much appreciated.”
Beloit City Council President Kevin Leavy said that the Council has been a long-time supporter of this application. He referred to the 1,500 projected jobs and how it will benefit the community. He also made reference to a commitment by the Ho-Chunk Nation for providing childcare for employees of the casino and convention center.
“Our residents who struggle to balance work with childcare will find assistance with the onsite daycare program the tribe has committed to providing. Parents will be able to balance childcare with employment through this necessary program. We hope this will help our families obtain financially stable employment without the added burden of costly childcare.”
Letters of support also came from other Beloit officials, such as City Manager Lori Curtis Luther, Chief of Police David Zibolski, Finance and Administrative Services Director Eric Miller, Director of Planning and Building Services Drew Pennington, and Director of Water Resources Harry Mathos.