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The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma is seeking 160 acres of land in Pulaski County just south of the Little Rock Port Authority, although its plans for the land are unclear to area officials.

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a letter to county judge for Pulaski County Barry Hyde this month, informing him that the bureau was considering an application concerning the land. The tribe wants the land to be held in trust by the United States for the "use and benefit of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma," the letter reads.

Hyde said he thinks the tribe may already have 80 acres of the land and is looking to acquire 80 acres more. The price tag could be more than $1 million, he said.

The tribe operates casinos and other businesses in Oklahoma.

Phone messages left with tribe and bureau representatives were not returned Thursday afternoon.

Whether the U.S. acquires the property in trust will be decided by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, according to the letter.

Hyde has 30 days to respond to the bureau's letter, indicating the property taxes currently levied on the land, special assessments on the property, government services provided to the area, what zoning the land may be subject to and any other comments.

Hyde said he wanted to speak with Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day and mayors in the county before sending a response. Hyde said he thinks the county received the letter March 13. A stamp on the letter indicates it was either sent or received March 4.

Hyde said he's not sure what the process is for acquiring the land, but he plans to learn more before sending his response to the bureau.

If acquired, the land would not be subject to state law or county or city zoning, Hyde said. Although located in the county outside of Little Rock's city limits, the land is now subject to Little Rock's extraterritorial jurisdiction, which extends city planning outside of city limits by 3 miles. The county does not have zoning outside of the Lake Maumelle watershed.

The nearby Port of Little Rock is a 2,600-acre industrial park in the southeast part of the city, next to Interstate 440.

"I'm concerned about anything that doesn't fit in the local zoning because that flies in the face of what is the people's land," Hyde said. "If they have planned a casino development ... my problem with that is again that violates the intent of our state constitution. If we're now going to begin allowing gambling establishments in Pulaski County, I'd like for that to be controlled by the state, and I'd like to see the city and county officials and people to have a say."

Hyde said tribe officials had discovered relics on the property that were traced back to the tribe's heritage in Arkansas.

In a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Dec. 23, former County Judge for Pulaski County Buddy Villines said he supported the tribe's application under the belief that it was a nongaming application.

"Therefore, I am pleased to ask that you accept this letter of support for the application," he wrote.

"The Quapaw's have been and continue to be an important part of the historical culture of our State," Villines continued, noting that the lands were long occupied by the tribe before Arkansas became a state. "We also understand the significant role the Tribe has played in economic development on the other lands they occupy. Their commitment has provided their community with high paying, good jobs as well as a huge boost to the local economy."

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola mentioned the U.S. Department of Interior letter to the county at the end of his State of the City speech Thursday. He said there "is much speculation" about what the tribe's use of the land might be. He didn't specifically mention a casino but implied it in a closing comment.

"As fun as that might be to do in another state, out of town, I have questions about whether or not that's the most appropriate place or use of our property here in the city of Little Rock," Stodola said.

Stodola said later that he'd heard from other people familiar with the Bureau of Indian Affairs letter that the land could be used for a casino but that he hadn't actually heard it from any members of the tribe. A casino would be "incongruous and incompatible" with the Little Rock port, he said.

Day said he had not sat down with tribe officials to discuss what the land would be used for and that he didn't have enough information to say if he supported the acquisition. He noted that the land could be used for a cultural heritage site or a casino.

"They're devoting a lot of energy and effort into this application, so obviously they have some long-term plans for the project," he said.

"We're obviously interested in anything that happens out here," he added, noting millions of dollars in investment involved in the port.

Jay Chessir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he plans to look at the issue after his lobbying at the state Legislature is done but said the potential impact on the Little Rock Port Authority would need to be considered.

"What I intend to do is soak up all the information and figure out what is factual and what is paranoia or rumor," he said.

"My understanding is once it's in trust, everybody else is irrelevant," he added. "This may be our one bite at the apple to express our desires and our fears."

Information for this article was contributed by Chelsea Boozer of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 03/20/2015

Print Headline: Oklahoma tribe seeks land in LR

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