Construction has begun on a large bingo hall planned by the Wampanoag tribe in Aquinnah — and tribal leaders have issued a stern warning to the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to not interfere or face aggressive legal action.

Clearing is now evident on tribe-owned property off Black Brook and State Roads where the bingo hall is planned. In a press release that went out Saturday night, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), formally announced the start of construction.

Williams Building Co. of Hyannis is the general contractor, tribal leaders said in an announcement. — Landry Harlan

“We remain committed to bringing positive economic development to our tribe, the town of Aquinnah and our neighbors in the larger Island community,” the statement said in part. “We bring to life the vision for this entertainment experience.”

Among other things, the announcement confirms that the plan calls for building a 10,000-square-foot facility to house 250 electronic gaming machines, a beer and wine bar, outdoor seating and food trucks. Once it is up and operating, the casino will employ about 100 full and part-time workers, the announcement also said. Williams Building Co. of Hyannis is the general contractor.

The tribe had previously announced its partnership with Global Gaming Solutions, a business entity of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, to develop the project.

Last week, work was underway on the site, formerly known as the Wiener property, which had been acquired by the tribe. Trees and brush had been removed and heavy equipment was visible from State Road.

The land clearing and formal announcement of construction come as the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is considering whether to review the bingo hall as a development of regional impact (DRI). Aquinnah and Chilmark selectmen have both asked for the review.

Simultaneous with the press announcement on Saturday, Ms. Andrews Maltais released an exchange of letters between the tribe, the commission and the town of Aquinnah last week.

The first was a letter hand delivered to Ms. Andrews-Maltais on Feb. 20 from MVC executive director Adam Turner, notifying her of the referrals from the two towns and requesting a meeting on Monday, Feb. 25.

“We trust that as the representatives of the original Islanders you share our desire to preserve the unique values of the Vineyard,” the letter said in part. “Regardless of political boundaries we are one Island.”

Responding by letter on Friday, Feb. 22, Ms. Andrews-Maltais said the commission lacks jurisdiction to review the project. She pointed to the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upholding the tribe’s sovereign rights to build a gaming facility under federal law, and the subsequent denial by the U.S. Supreme Court last year to hear the town’s petition for review, ending the case.

Casino planned for area adjacent to community center. — Graham Smith

“If the MVC embraces that court decision and acknowledges that the MVC lacks jurisdiction over the gaming project, the tribe is more than happy to engage in a government-to-government dialogue,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais wrote. She said while the tribe had been unaware of Chilmark’s referral to the commission, she strongly criticized Aquinnah for seeking MVC review of the bingo hall. “It is unfortunate that the town has involved the MVC (and now the town of Chilmark) in an attempt to further the town’s longstanding agenda of interference with the tribe’s exercise of its rights under federal law to have a gaming facility on its tribal lands on the Island,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais wrote.

Meanwhile, in an even more sharply worded letter sent to the Aquinnah selectmen on Friday, Ms. Andrews-Maltais demanded that the town withdraw its letter to the MVC or face severed ties and legal action.

“Even after losing in the highest court in the land (at no small monetary cost to all parties), the town now seeks to do what it now knows cannot be done directly,” she wrote. “Therefore, unless the town withdraws its letter to the MVC and acknowledges that the towns lacks jurisdiction over all the matters integral to the tribe’s gaming operation, the tribe will no longer engage in discussions with the town on gaming matters whatsoever.

“It is truly unfortunate that it has come to this.”

The letter also said: “Please be advised that any repeated effort by the town to stop the tribe’s gaming operation will be countered with an aggressive legal defense by the tribe. Frankly, the tribe is surprised that the town would even raise the possibility of further litigation by trying to force the MVC into a position to pursue or be the recipient of litigation in the wake of the town’s unmitigated loss at the First Circuit and then again at the United States Supreme Court.”