After nearly two years of reviews and 10,000-plus pages of analysis, Wynn Everett received the go-ahead from state environmental regulators late Friday evening – gaining a critical approval that had stood in the way of construction on the casino since February.
After having sent Wynn back to the drawing board regarding traffic plans last fall, state environmental reviewers (known as MEPA) once again sent Wynn back to the drawing board last spring to work out five more outstanding items. In mid-July, Wynn submitted its Second Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Report (SSFEIR) and, on Aug. 28, was deemed to be in “adequate and proper compliance.”
“I hereby determine that the SSFEIR submitted on this project adequately and properly complies with MEPA and with its implementing regulations,” wrote state Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton. “The proponent adequately addressed these (five) issues. Outstanding aspects of the project that require additional analysis can be addressed during local, state and federal permitting, review and approval processes.”
A notable amount of space in Beaton’s letter was devoted to traffic mitigation, and he indicated that Wynn had complied with its plans.
“The proponent has made significant commitments to minimize and mitigate traffic impacts,” he wrote. “The proponent has also agreed to provide an annual operating subsidy to the MBTA to mitigate impacts on the Orange Line…This is an unprecedented commitment that acknowledges and addresses the project’s impact on transit operations…The MassDOT has reviewed the proponent’s traffic analysis and mitigation plans and determined, consistent with long established review protocols, that it will be effective to mitigate the project’s impacts on existing transportation infrastructure. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) reached the same conclusion after its review.”
The approval sent many cheers from the Wynn company and from folks in Everett.
“The process has been meticulous and hard fought and undoubtedly will continue to be so,” said Steve Wynn in a statement. “However, with the support of the Governor and his administration, the process was open and fair. At moments like this, there is certainly a feeling of gratification and forward movement. It lifts our spirits and energizes us to get on with the business of constructing our building and recruiting a remarkable staff. These challenges are familiar to us and in the execution of them, we experience great joy and satisfaction.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria also said he looks forward to shovels going in the ground, saying the MEPA certificate was beyond a major milestone.
“Secretary Beaton’s announcement today means more than just a significant milestone for this project,” he said. “It is the validation of the planning, hard work and perseverance of everyone involved in making Wynn Everett a reality. The Wynn team has put forth an ambitious development that fully mitigates the impacts of their project. Their attention to detail and careful planning are the reasons I chose to work with them in the first place – and the reasons the MEPA Certificate was issued by Secretary Beaton today. I look forward to the hard work ahead, to seeing shovels in the ground, and to the continuing discussions about the future of our region.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who has been against the Wynn casino for some time, was more reserved on receiving the news, but indicated that Boston might begin participating in state-run regional traffic planning for the greater Sullivan Square area. In two previous meetings run by state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Boston refused to attend.
“We will continue to fight for the best interests and public safety of the people of Charlestown – where the effects of the proposed casino would be enormous,” he said Friday night in a statement. “Secretary Beaton’s decision could make it necessary to invest well over $175 million in Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue. I will work with the Baker Administration and my colleagues in federal and state government to ensure that adequate funding mechanisms are in place for a regional project of this magnitude. We will also coordinate with these partners to push for an accurate and expert-based transportation plan in order to fully understand and then mitigate this development’s impacts on Boston’s streets.”
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) also made itself heard, noting that thousands of people would benefit from the potential economic opportunities.
“The Commission will continue to take every opportunity to encourage Wynn to work cooperatively with the neighboring communities, and will use its authority to ensure that Wynn continues to work with other state and local agencies and permitting authorities to develop solutions to outstanding issues,” read the statement. “We are particularly mindful of the critical nature of the long-term solution to Sullivan Square, as envisioned in our original conditional license award and the $25 million commitment to that project that we required of Wynn. Wynn will be obligated to report on such outreach to the Commission as part of its mandatory reporting to the Commission.”
And such long-term planning was also a priority for Beaton, who codified the regional stakeholder traffic planning meetings led by Pollack.
Beaton said he had considered calls for further traffic review via the MEPA process, especially on Sullivan Square, but believed that it was outside the process. Instead, he believed that Pollack’s meetings were the proper venue for long-term planning.
“I have concluded that the practical, rational and effective approach to addressing broader regional transportation impacts for this project is through enhanced transportation planning processes, not through the prism of this single project,” he wrote. “In completing the MEPA review, I am requiring enhanced public participation during permitting and development of Section 61 findings by MassDOT and the establishment of a Regional Working Group.”
He defined the Regional Working Group as a MassDOT-led conglomeration of stakeholders in the region that will “assess and develop long-term transportation improvements that can support sustainable redevelopment and economic growth in and around Sullivan Square.”
He said that Wynn has agreed to participate and would provide a proportionate share of funding to support the effort. He said those involved should include the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, MAPC, Department of Conservation and Recreation, the City of Boston, the City of Everett and the City of Somerville. He also indicated that large employers and developers should play a role in the planning also, perhaps a nod to the new Partners Healthcare building under construction and the Assembly Row shopping area under construction.
As related to traffic, Beaton also indicated that a larger traffic model need not be used to evaluate the project, a model known as the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) regional travel demand model. Such a suggestion was called for by Attorney General Maura Healey.
“MassDOT’s comments indicate that the regional travel demand model is employed to evaluate MassDOT projects that are of sufficient size and scope to alter the regional travel network,” he wrote. “I note that MAPC has not called for this analysis and also indicate that the traffic analysis demonstrates that project impacts can be mitigated.”
In conclusion, Beaton elaborated extensively on the constraints of the MEPA process, explaining that he viewed it more as a review than a decision.
“MEPA does not approve or deny a project,” he wrote. “It is an administrative process that is subject to public review and comment. The MEPA process itself does not result in any formal adjudicative decision approving or disapproving a project. The determination that a review document is adequate means that the proponent has adequately described and analyzed the project and its alternatives, and assessed its potential environmental impacts and mitigation measures.”
LAND TRANSFER LIKELY TO HAPPEN AFTER HEARING
One of the major issues that hit the presses when Wynn Everett was required to go back to the drawing board with an SSFEIR was the fact that the MBTA land deal – which allows a critical all-Everett access point to the casino – did not happen by the book.
Wynn and the MBTA quickly put the land and $6 million payment into escrow to await the results of the MEPA process.
Now that a certificate has been granted, Wynn will once again take possession of that critical 1.76 acre circuitous piece of land.
According to the escrow agreement, Wynn will assume ownership within 60 days of the MEPA certificate, with the clock starting on Aug. 28.
Beaton said in his letter on Aug. 28 that MassDOT has taken responsibility for transferring the land prematurely, but also said that the deed won’t be returned until the filing of the final Section 61 findings.
“Upon issuance of the Final Section 61 findings, the escrow agent will return the Quitclaim Deed and Termination of Easement Agreement to the proponent, the money to the MBTA and any associated modifications will be recorded,” he wrote.
That change, however, won’t likely happen before the hearing on Sept. 22 for the City of Boston lawsuit against the MGC in Suffolk Superior Court.
“We don’t have a date when that land transfer will take place, but it is very unlikely it will be before Sept. 22,” said Michael Weaver or Wynn.
Having clear title to that access point in Everett would potentially complicate a significant portion of Boston’s lawsuit – specifically the part demanding Host Community status and a vote of the people of Charlestown. The suit argues that Wynn accesses its casino through Horizon Way at the moment (which is partially in Boston) and landlocked. With the MBTA land cleared, that argument would be different.
The City of Boston did not immediately respond to a request from the newspaper as to how the property transfer might affect its lawsuit’s claim of Host Community status.