Funmaker proposes that the Nation invest in Pike Island’s hydroelectric power plant

By Tim Wohlers

For more than a year, tribal member Gary Funmaker has been asking the Ho-Chunk Nation to invest in a hydroelectric power plant that would be built on the Ohio River.   
“It can be as little as $500K,” Funmaker said, “just to get a foot in the door.” 
The plant would be located on the main stem of the Ohio River between Wheeling, WA and Yorkville, OH.  Although the project could cost as much as $206 million, Funmaker is asking for no more than an $8 million investment. 
“Over 24,000 households would benefit from this,” Funmaker said.  “And they have two tribes on board already.” 
Funmaker presented a resolution to have the Nation invest in the project at this year’s General Council.  The resolution was defeated by a margin of about 2-1, however 560 tribal members voted in favor of the proposal. 
“Many members…saw the light,” Funmaker said.  “Clean energy (is) a hedge to our revenue stream for the future.” 
He presented the idea to legislators in August of 2016, and it was referred to Twelve Clans.  The board has yet to act upon it, though. 
“Twelve Clans has it,” Funmaker said.  “And Jason, the guy that’s in charge of it said they were going to take a strong look at it.” 
Funmaker said he’s glad someone will finally be considering the proposal.  However, he expressed frustration with legislators for not acting upon the resolution themselves. 
“We got a bunch of lightweights,” Funmaker said.  “You don’t automatically gain any kind of acumen because your family put you in a position.”   
He said that the people making decisions on behalf of the Nation aren’t quite qualified enough, and that more expertise is needed when it comes to dealing with its investments. 
“Major corporations have like 12 members dealing with (their investments),” Funmaker said.  “We’re worth $850 million in assets.  Companies like that have guys graduating from Wharton and Harvard Business School sitting on the board, dealing with the latest in technology and software, to tell them what decision to make.” 
He cited the current casino-expansion project as an example of poor investing, and said that the Nation could be making much better decisions with its money. 
“This $150 million expansion is nuts,” Funmaker said.  “There’s no return there.” 
Funmaker thought that investing the money in renewable energy would’ve been a much smarter decision. 
“Picture the $150 million going toward Pike Island,” Funmaker said.  “We would’ve controlled the whole thing.” 
He has been working with Pike’s project managers to coordinate a meeting in Wisconsin Dells, where tribal members would be provided and meal and a detailed presentation of their proposal.  They would also be able to ask any questions they have concerning the project.  That presentation could take place as soon as November, Funmaker said.