The U.S. Department of Interior has requested Pottawatomie County commissioners resolve a matter involving 20 acres of county-owned property, which could be conveyed back to its original owner, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
The letter raises concern about the Mission Hill property at 1900 Gordon Cooper Drive, which was once part of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation reservation.
On that land sits the former Mission Hill Hospital building, which the county leases out for use by Saint Anthony Shawnee Hospital as a south campus, comprised of an urgent care clinic and a long-term care facility. The Pottawatomie County Health Department building also is located on the land site.
The letter shows the land was deeded to Pottawatomie County in 1959 on the condition that be used for a "school or other public purpose."
The letter reads that if the Secretary of the Interior determines that the grantee has failed to observe those provisions for at least one year, the Secretary may declare a forfeiture of the conveyance and title and then revert the land back to the United States, with such a determination made by the Secretary of the Interior being final.
"The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has submitted documentation, which, upon its face, appears to establish that the land subject to the 1959 deed is being used for commercial, non-public, purposes in violation of the terms and conditions of the deed," the letter reads.
Dated Dec. 31, 2012, and signed by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Washburn, the letter shows the 19.87 acres is being reviewed.
Since a forfeiture of the conveyance would include a forfeiture of the improvements, the Assistant Secretary encourages both Pottawatomie County and CPN to resolve this matter in a manner that would compensate the county for the present value of the improvements made to the property while still protecting CPN's reversionary interest in the property.
"It would be in the best interest of the community, and therefore, both parties, to reach an amicable solution to this problem prior to a ruling by the United States Department of the Interior," the letter further reads.
The letter and overall issue was an agenda item during this week's county commission meeting, where the topic was discussed and the board asked District Attorney Richard Smothermon to further check into resolution of this matter through communications with all parties involved.
"We're in the beginning stages trying to see where as a county we stand," County Commissioner Melissa Dennis said, adding there are still many unanswered questions. She said she believes the property is being utilized for a public use, although any decisions regarding the property would be up to the commission.
In a written statement, CPN Chairman John A. Barrett said the tribe is aware of the Assistant Secretary of the Interior's advisements concerning the present use of the Mission Hill property.
Page 2 of 2 - Barrett said the former Indian school land is required under federal statute to be used for public purposes, such as a school, health department or public hospital, and if not, then be reverted back to the original owner, which is CPN.
"That is what the Department of Interior has advised the county to resolve," he said.
"The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has offered to buy the buildings from the Pottawatomie County commissioners and now offer to exchange equal valued property for the Mission Hill Hospital buildings, Barrett wrote, adding that is not required by the law. "Under federal law, the entire property is forfeited. We think the fair thing to do is pay Pottawatomie County for the improvements to the land. We are very willing for the County Health Department to stay or we will exchange a new building with the county for it, as well."
Chuck Skillings, president of St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital, issued a brief statement about the letter Wednesday saying, "At this time, we do not know what this means for St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital and the services housed at the south campus."
Smothermon said Wednesday night that since he's been requested to look into this matter, he's already been in preliminary discussions with all parties involved.
"Our goal is to make sure the investment that the county has made is protected," he said.
Smothermon said he feels all parties will be able to resolve this matter without court-related action, which would only cost money to county taxpayers.
Watch for further details and updates to this story.