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Rising tensions raise questions over Welch development project

The Prairie Island Indian Community will have its own assisted living center located on 18 acres of tribal land in Welch.1 / 2
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A packed, heated room of concerned citizens gathered to listen and raise questions over the future of Welch Township on Thursday, June 1. Neighbors have two main concerns with the new Prairie Island Indian Community land development: noise and water.

The Tribal Council, along with state Sen. Mike Goggin and Rep. Barb Haley, came to speak at the Welch Town Board community meeting to discuss the future of the project. The council started with a short presentation, which covered background history on the Prairie Island Indian Community, land under tribal jurisdiction and the current plans to develop an elder care facility in Welch. Neighbors were able to write down their questions to be answered at the end.

"It's fear of the unknown," said Terry Fruth of Welch. "What the tribe is doing when they say they don't have any firm plans ... what they've said is completely contradictory. This is what people are accustomed to when there's a big development."

Read more: Prairie Island breaks ground on assisted living center

In response to interruptions during the meeting, council members reminded neighbors that the meeting was voluntary.

"We're trying to be good neighbors, we did not have to come," said Shelley Buck, president of Prairie Island tribal council. "Technically, we can do what we want with the land. We want to be open and honest. It's not just your community, it's our community."

On Friday, Buck told the Republican Eagle, "Our intent in meeting with the Welch Township Board and residents was to share information, set the record straight and start a dialogue about our plans to build an assisted living center."

The land is located at Highway 61 and 130th Avenue next to Highway 316. The first project and main focus right now is the assisted living center, which held a groundbreaking ceremony earlier Thursday.

"We have no concrete answer of what we're going to do with the rest of the land," Buck said. "We have other options, such as tribal member housing, convenient stores, gas stations ... we've done absolutely no research, nothing on those ideas. Once we realized how much time would be taken for the assisted living facility, we stopped looking at other things."

The Prairie Island Indian Community has its own set of guidelines and rules to follow regarding the environmental and legal process behind land development. Goodhue County does not have permitting authority over tribal land.

The assisted living center for tribal elders will be located on federal trust land that is under tribal jurisdiction in Welch.

Citizens gathered together as the Welch Township Neighborhood Association and questioned whether wastewater from the facility could be released into the groundwater system. They also are concerned about the safety of traffic at a busy intersection and a lack of study results from Environmental Protection Agency. The group has filed a complaint to the EPA.

"You have to deal with the science first, then you can deal with the social aspects," Fruth said.

While the meeting lasted about 40 minutes, it was cut short due to a disruptions.

"It's unfortunate and disappointing that the actions and words of one individual disrupted and distracted from the meeting's purpose and forced us to end the meeting," said Buck in a statement on behalf of the Tribal Council.

Council members noted that they will continue to do their part to communicate with the Town Board and residents about the project and have offered to address questions submitted to the community through the board.

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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