Osage County Commissioners voted to send a letter of appeal to the BIA opposing the Osage Nation’s non-gaming fee-to-trust application for 75 acres of land just north of the Nation’s flagship casino in north Tulsa.
The commissioners, Jerry Howerton (District 1, Pawhuska), Kevin Pasley (District 2, Skiatook) and Darren McKinney, who is an Osage tribal member (District 3, Fairfax), voted 2-0 with one abstention on Feb. 5. The agenda item was proposed by Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan and McKinney made the motion for the vote. He and Pasley voted ‘yes’ and Howerton abstained.
“This vote has set back our relations with the county by years,” said Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, who promptly issued an order to the Nation’s Roads Department to remove from the Transportation Improvement Plan $5,650,000 worth of funds from county and Nation cooperative projects.
Standing Bear said after the vote he consulted with the Nation’s Attorney General and they have retained attorney Phil Baker-Shenk, who specializes in fee-to-trust cases, who works for Washington D.C.-based law firm Holland & Knight.
Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn, who was at the Feb. 5 meeting, said the 75-acre property is slated to become part of the larger airpark property where companies can test and demonstrate aircraft and could also be a potential location for future offices and manufacturing.
Putting land into trust is when the title of the land is transferred to the United States to keep in trust for the benefit of a federally-recognized tribe. Once in trust, only federal and tribal jurisdiction will govern over the land instead of state law and it becomes untaxable. The county would lose about $6,000 in property taxes per year.
Red Corn said in the last 10 years the Nation has given an average of $5.4 million per year in funding to Osage County, and that doesn’t count the $1.6 million in production tax revenue that also funds Osage County schools and roads.
“We’re aware that discussions within county government are ongoing in light of the information the Osage Nation has provided them,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can get to a cooperative footing where we all work together for the benefit of Osage County.”
Commissioner Pasley’s assistant said he was out of town, Howerton did not return a request for comment and Commissioner McKinney said he did not want to go on the record, but the issue was being further discussed.
Osage Agency Superintendent Robin Phillips hand delivered the BIA’s letter of approval for the Nation’s fee-to-trust application on Jan. 9. According to the letter, any appeal filed against the Nation’s application will be taken into consideration by the BIA Eastern Oklahoma Regional Director.
If the county commissioners change course and decide not to file the appeal with the Regional Director and publicly vote to rescind the appeal, Standing Bear said the Nation would reinstate the funds for the Transportation Improvement Plan.
“The application was for non-gaming purposes. It would have brought hundreds of jobs to the area,” Standing Bear said. “Very disappointing.”
[Correction: This article was updated on Feb. 8, 2018, to reflect the county would lose about $6,000 in property taxes per year if the 75 acres were put in trust, not gain $10,000 in property taxes. The Osage News regrets the error.]