By Associated Press - Sunday, February 14, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A new federal rule protecting a threatened bat species isn’t expected to hinder a Native American tribe’s plans for a $400 million casino complex South Bend.

Plans from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians for the project include an 18-story casino, 44 housing units and various office buildings on the city’s southwestern edge.

In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule declaring the northern long-eared bat a threatened species after its population suffered significant losses due to a rapidly spreading fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome.

The initial rule would’ve prohibited developers who wanted to clear enough trees to meet a certain threshold from doing so on sites containing caves or mines where the bats hibernate, nor trees where it roosts. But a less restrictive rule taking effect this month prohibits tree clearing only on sites known to contain rooting trees.

Whenever someone spots a roosting tree and reports it to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the location is recorded in a database.



The database for Indiana contains no records of roosting trees on the 165-acre site in South Bend where the tribe wants to build its development, Scott Pruitt, a field supervisor at the Fish and Wildlife Service, told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1XjkqAy).

But Pruitt pointed out that the site doesn’t necessarily lack roosting trees, only that there haven’t been any documented there, and there won’t be a search for such trees in the future.

The tribe’s proposal is awaiting approval from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The project must also clear an environmental impact study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will determine whether the development will affect any wetlands.

Pokagon Band spokeswoman Paige Risser wouldn’t comment on the status of the reviews.

“This is a federal process, and the band defers to the federal authorities on these issues,” Risser said.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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