A Minnesota tribe has asked the US government to place 112 acres of land it bought in 2015 into a federal trust, which would allow the property to become immune from local land use and zoning ordinances.

Minnesota tribe Prairie Island casino

The Prairie Island Indian Community, a Minnesota tribe, wants to move some of its residents away from a nuclear power plant. (Image: Prairie Island Indian Community)

The land in question is in West Lakeland Township east of St. Paul near Woodbury. The Prairie Island Indian Community, a small Native American tribe consisting of just a few hundred local residents, is based 30 miles southeast of the acreage in Welch.

The tribe says it wants to build housing on the new land, but admits it hasn’t completely ruled out a casino.

The Department of the Interior (DOI), responsible for deciding whether tribal land acquisitions have the legal basis to be taken into trust, is currently considering the request. Part of that process is a 30-day public comment period, and Woodbury residents are making their voices heard.

“I have talked with a lot of people, and not one of them said they want a casino to go in there,” former township supervisor John McPherson told the Pioneer Press. “The neighbors are upset about it, very much so.”

The Prairie Island people already own the Treasure Island Resort and Casino, which is located on their sovereign land.

Nuclear Option

The Minnesota tribe says its main objective in buying the Woodbury land was to provide a new location for its members to live. Their reservation currently sits next to the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, a facility that has two nuclear reactors.

The Native American group has long opposed the plant’s storage of spent radioactive fuel rods in casks at the site.

Xcel Energy successfully obtained the right from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in 1991 to store such waste at the facility. The tribe heavily opposed the decision, and eventually reached a deal with Xcel that mandates the energy company pay the Native American group up to $2.25 million annually.

The money is to help the tribe improve its evacuation procedures in the event of a spill or meltdown, and also to set aside funds for the tribe to seek new lands.

After initiating the Woodbury land-into-trust procedure in 2016, Tribal Council President Shelley Buck explained, “The federal government has failed to fulfill its legal obligation under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act to remove spent nuclear fuel that is piling up just 600 yards from our homes and businesses. Owning land in a prime metro location gives us options we didn’t have before.”

Location, Location, Location

Treasure Island is about an hour drive south with no traffic from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Aside from the small town of Red Wing, it’s a rather remote area.

The Woodbury property sits in a much more populated region, and its easy access to I-94 makes the commute to St. Paul just a 20-minute drive, and Minneapolis about 40 minutes.

Woodbury would get the tribe away from the nuclear plant, and nearer the state’s two largest cities.