In a battle of the written word this week between top state officials, the power of the pen has seemed to swing the way of Wynn.
Dueling letters of support and opposition from several officials ended on Monday with a the top transportation official in the state writing that Wynn’s traffic plan had satisfied her and the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT).
“MassDOT believes that no further environmental review need be required based on transportation issues,” read the letter from Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “Specifically, MassDOT believes that the SSFEIR has adequately addressed the key transportation issues during the interim period while Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square remain in their current configuration.
“As for the longer-term important issues affecting Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square, MassDOT acknowledges that additional collaborative work by the Cities of Boston, Somerville and Everett, as well as other stakeholders, would be helpful. As you know, this area has been subject to extensive planning over the past decade, and the long-term issues there go well beyond those posed by the proponent’s development.”
The war of words comes in anticipation of the Aug. 28 expected decision on a critical, final piece of the puzzle in Wynn’s path to secure a full environmental certificate (known as a MEPA certificate) from Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. The certificate has been mostly completed, but has been hung up since February on traffic concerns in Sullivan Square and the surrounding environs.
With the letter on Monday from Pollack, many of the efforts put forth by Wynn – and opposed in large part by some residents of Charlestown and the City of Boston – were validated.
“We believe that these longer-term issues are best addressed through a regional working group, and MassDOT is ready either to convene or participate in such an effort,” read the letter.
“And perhaps, as we suggest in the attached MEPA comments, such a process could produce a Sullivan Square mitigation plan that could in turn unlock the $25 million in funding that the proponent has set aside to make longer-term improvements to Sullivan Square.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the City had similar comments about the traffic situation in a letter also submitted into the record. He said the meetings with Secretary Pollack have been limited, but productive.
“It is my hope that these meetings represent the beginning, and not the end, of the cooperation between the City of Everett, MassDOT, the City of Boston, the City of Somerville and other stakeholders,” he wrote. “As well-intentioned as Boston’s preferred option for Sullivan Square may be, it is critical that they not go it alone. The regional impact of the short and long-term planning for that area is too great to be created in a vacuum by any single municipality, developer or state entity. Moreover, it is counterintuitive for the City of Boston to assert that a project that is located wholly in the City of Everett will greatly affect traffic management at Sullivan Square, but in the same breath state that the development of a solution for the square is for Boston to determine alone.
“These positions must be reconciled,” he continued. “Simply put, if Sullivan Square is impacted by regional factors, then it is the entire region that must come to the table.”
However, both of those comments in support of Wynn’s traffic solutions were bookended by Attorney General Maura Healy – a Charlestown resident – who submitted critical comments on Friday along with her own commissioned traffic study.
Healy called for Secretary Beaton to hold up the certificate on Wynn until the long-term solution is identified.
“We urge you not to issue a MEPA certificate for the casino until Wynn’s certificate includes a long-term traffic solution for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square that takes into account years of planning by community stakeholders and is compatible with the City of Boston’s redevelopment plans for that area,” she wrote. “If you approve the casino without a long-term traffic mitigation plan, we may never get one… Allowing the multi-stakeholder planning process to continue unimpeded will best ensure that the public’s interests, particularly related to traffic, regional economic development, and neighborhood planning, are represented at this critical stage. If the casino is built without a long-term plan in place for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square, we simply may never solve the traffic problem.”
Her key points of contention for holding up the certificate were that the casino was not compatible with Boston’s plan to downsize Sullivan Square, that the traffic numbers generated by Wynn were not accurate, that the on-site parking is not sufficient and that the casino’s impacts on I-93 were not addressed.
Of most interest in the 68-page comment letter from Healy, was a brand new traffic study commissioned by the AG and poking holes in the numbers of Wynn’s analysis throughout the MEPA process.
Healy commissioned the report from SmartMobility, which was delivered by its president, Norman Marshall, on Aug. 20.
The report basically identified the same issues that were of concern to Healy.
“All of these issues should be resolved prior to construction of the proposed project, because it is unclear whether satisfactory mitigation of these issues is even possible,” read the study. “Even if mitigation is feasible, the plan should be in place before the Wynn Casino is built. Otherwise, the required mitigation may not be implemented.”
The study indicated that the numbers used by Wynn to study trip generation – using casinos in New York City, Philadelphia and Montreal – should be reconfigured, using the averages of traffic counts at those three casinos. When using those new numbers along with the numbers of gaming positions, Marshall indicated that the trip numbers are much higher than predicted by Wynn.
For example, Wynn indicates that gaming trips coming in would be 556 during the Saturday peak hour, but Marshall calculates that to be 898 trips – some 342 more trips that suggested.
In the end, it will be Secretary Beaton that makes the call – presumably this Friday, Aug. 28. With his approval, a long and arduous process will come to an end and the casino company can begin moving forward quickly on plans ready to be executed.
If he decides more needs to be done, it will be back to the drawing board for Wynn to address any additional identified concerns about the traffic situation.