- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Pulaski County officials sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs this week asking to decline a request by the Quapaw Tribe that 160 acres of land be entered into federal trust.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde signed the letter dated Monday objecting to the tribe’s plan and calling the application incomplete and premature.

“The Tribe has not demonstrated its need for the land to be taken into trust,” Hyde wrote. “The benefit to the Tribe of taking these lands into trust by the United States is nominal, considering the proposed use … and is outweighed by the potential harm to the general public.”

The county’s submission notes that Quapaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey has told several news outlets that the tribe is leasing a portion of the property to a soybean farmer and that it hopes to continue growing crops to donate to a food bank. Hyde argues that farming could harm any culturally significant areas of the property and not fit the criteria of “tribal self-determination, economic development or Indian housing.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently reviewing the application to move the property adjacent to the Little Rock Port Authority’s industrial park into federal trust, meaning it would not be subject to state and local jurisdictions.

Local officials have raised concerns that granting the federal trust would allow the tribe to build a casino on the land. Both the county and the city of Little Rock have asked the Quapaw Tribe to enter into a memorandum of understanding and to stay within the local jurisdictions.

Berrey said Hyde had misinterpreted the law in the letter and memo sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He said the laws were written to allow American Indian to repatriate lands within their former reservations.

“We recognize that federal Indian law is complex and very difficult to understand,” Berrey wrote in an email. “We hope that Judge Hyde will allow the Quapaw Tribe and our experts to help him and the citizens of Pulaski County understand this amazing opportunity and the new benefits that this federal trust land will provide.”

Berrey did not answer questions about the intended use of the property.

The Quapaw Tribe bought the land after finding graves dating back hundreds of years to when the tribe was in Arkansas.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he also plans to submit a letter objecting to the Quapaw Tribe’s request by a May 22 deadline.

“I have asked the chairman to annex the property into the city and submit to our zoning authority,” Stodola said. “Unless and until that happens, we would object to that land going into the federal trust. We can’t afford to jeopardize the billion dollars of investment that has gone into the Little Rock Port and its growth.”

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