Duluth council approves deal to end 7 years of litigation with Fond du Lac Band

The Fond du Luth casino in downtown Duluth
Revenues from the Fond du Luth casino in downtown Duluth had been the subject of seven years of litigation between the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the city of Duluth.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

The Duluth City Council approved a settlement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa on Friday that officially ends seven years of contentious litigation over disputed revenue from the band's downtown casino.

The council voted 8-0 in a special session to support the deal that was announced earlier this week by Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Fond du Lac Interim Chairman Wally Dupuis.

The Band's Reservation Business Committee also unanimously supported the settlement.

It calls for the band to pay the city $150,000 annually for 10 years to cover services the city provides to the band's downtown Fond-du-Luth casino, a figure Larson has said "creates a level playing field" with other downtown businesses.

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The band has also agreed to adhere to the city's planning and zoning codes at its downtown properties.

In exchange, the city has agreed to drop all pending lawsuits related to the dispute and to the band's purchase of a property adjacent to the casino.

Duluth Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery told the council it's time to move on.

"This is an agreement about possibilities moving forward," he said. "We believe this agreement puts aside that litigious past, and opens the door to a more cooperative and mutually beneficial future."

Mayor Emily Larson and several members of the City Council said the response they received from constituents was overwhelmingly positive in favor of the settlement.

"At this moment I'm actually really proud of the people of our city for the way they have responded to this agreement," said council member Joel Sipress. "I think that also bodes well for the future of our relationship between the city and the Fond du Lac Band."

City officials said the agreement marks the beginning of what will be a longer effort to rebuild trust between the city and the band.

The dispute dates back to 2009, when the band abruptly stopped making revenue sharing payments to the city that had amounted to about $6 million annually, a sum Duluth relied on to repair city streets.

In 2011 the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled the band was not entitled to share any revenue with the city, and several subsequent federal court rulings have upheld that position.

The settlement was more than five months in the making. Negotiations began shortly after Larson became mayor in January.

"My goal has always been about our future," she said, "about resetting, and starting again, and moving forward."