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ND tribe wants land around Missouri River lake

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- The Three Affiliated Tribes in northwestern North Dakota is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to return 36,000 acres of land around Lake Sakakawea to the tribe.

The public would continue to have access to the 56 square miles of land on the Fort Berthold Reservation, and the tribe would invest in roads and other infrastructure to improve recreational opportunities, Chairman Tex Hall said in a statement.

It's not the first time the tribe has sought to regain land after the Garrison Dam was built on the Missouri River to form Lake Sakakawea. In 2005 and 2006, the corps held a number of public meetings on a proposal to transfer about 24,000 acres, or about 38 square miles. That request languished.

"It fell off the radar screen for a lot of parties," Larry Janis, chief of recreation and natural resources for the corps' Omaha district, told The Bismarck Tribune.

The corps is reviewing the latest proposal. The governor's office and the state Game and Fish Department are seeking more information.

In McLean County, which borders and lake and includes a portion of the reservation, State's Attorney Ladd Erickson opposes the tribe's request, as he did eight years ago. The Flood Control Act of 1944, which authorized the Garrison project, dictates how lands along the Missouri River are managed, he said.

Erickson said the latest proposed transfer came as a surprise and that getting information has been difficult.

"It really affects my county adversely," he said.

Game and Fish spokesman Greg Link said information about discussions between the corps and tribe have been scarce.

"It's difficult to know if we're for it or against it when we don't know details," he told the Tribune.

Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said in a statement that his agency is worried about a possible loss of public land and about potential problems for boat access.

"This is a critical issue for hunters and anglers in the state," he said. "It's important that the corps considers further public input before making a decision on any potential land transfer."

Janis said no timeline has been established for a decision by the corps.