Monday, August 17, 2009

Mashpee Wampanoags Using Federal Funds, Not Investor's Funds

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in Enterprise News on housing funds awarded by the federal government to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts and the drying up of their funding by its investors.

Tribe isn’t getting money from investors for casino in Middleboro
By Alice C. Elwell
August 17, 2009

MIDDLEBORO — While the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe got federal money last week to fund a housing development in Mashpee, tribe officials say they’ve been cut off from funding by the investors of a proposed casino in Middleboro.

Aaron Tobey, vice chairman of the Mashpee Tribal Council, said the tribe is going forward in its bid to take land in Mashpee and Middleboro into trust.

But Tobey said the deal with the investors of a proposed casino in Middleboro, Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, has stalled, and that “nothing’s been resolved.”

The investors have stopped sending cash payments to the tribe, but continue to fund casino planning in Middleboro. Last month they gave $250,000 to the town.

Last week, nearly $4 million was awarded to the state’s two federally recognized tribes, the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag.

The money comes out of $100 million in stimulus funding administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Mashpee Wampanoag will use its $2 million grant to build a tribal housing development on 48 acres of tribe-owned land about three miles from its headquarters.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Housing Authority was awarded $1,895,855.

Alice Lopez, director of Mashpee tribal housing, said the money will help pay to install gas and electric lines, and build a sewer treatment plant for a proposed 51-unit Chapter 40B project on Meeting House Road in Mashpee.

Lopez said the tribe is building the route under the state’s 40B law, which streamlines the local zoning process if a significant percentage of the units will be priced at a level the state considers affordable.

The land has not yet been taken into a federal trust.

Lopez said the project will incorporate traditional tribal values, using the village concept to keep extended families together.

She said the design includes open space, community gardens and retains the traditional walking trails.

But in Middleboro, town officials remain wary of spending money from the tribe on planning for the casino.

Last week, the Finance Committee voted to place a hold on spending the investors’ money, “due to concerns about the potential liability which exists unless the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and their investors certify in writing all past expenditures.”

In an Aug. 14 letter to selectmen, the Finance Committee strongly recommended all future spending stop until the town gets a written guarantee that neither the tribe or investors will demand the money be returned.

To date, the town has received $1 million to prepare for the casino, but the Finance Committee says there are many potential problems with the continued use of the money and believes the proposed plan for future spending could lead to a challenge by the investors or the tribe.

Topping the list is concern the land in Middleboro won’t be taken into trust. The finance panel also questions the use of casino money to fund salaries in the Planning Department and Office of Economic and Community Development.

Other qualms included a “Controversial plan for future spending to involve Everett Square Revitalization” and funding a hotel study which might not be related to the casino.