By Seth Daniel
The Wynn Everett casino officials announced late Tuesday that they will now have to suspend their environmental cleanup activities immediately – most especially their shore cleanup and dredging activities.
At the same time as that announcement, three key environmental groups declared that the Chapter 91 appeal by Somerville is “without merit.”
Just two weeks ago, Wynn Everett announced that construction activities would be halted and that a hiring freeze had been instituted.
“The goal today is to make sure everyone understand we could not move forward with the remediation plan,” said Wynn Everett President Bob DeSalvio. “That’s not by choice, but what we’ve been told by our remediation experts…It’s certainly not by our choice…We are absolutely not allowed by state law to move forward with the [next phase of] remediation. We would be more than willing to continue at our own risk…We had hoped to move forward with our remediation, but as a result of Somerville’s appeal of the Chapter 91 license, unfortunately, that next phase will have to wait.”
DeSalvio did say that the first step in Somerville’s appeal of the license, which has been led by Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and could delay the project by up to one year, will take place Thursday. He said he was grateful to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for moving fast to get everyone together to start the process.
He said they will not leave the project, though.
“We see this as a delay,” he said. “We will be back doing the remediation and finishing it once we get our Chapter 91 license in hand.”
The nuts and bolts of the situation include that Wynn Everett has done the Phase 1 piece of the remediation on the land, which will wrap up in a few weeks. That work had to be done as a matter of taking ownership of the land, as law requires it to be returned to its original state. However, DeSalvio said they were now ready to work on Phase 2 of the remediation, which includes doing shoreline work and preparing the dock for the water shuttle/living shoreline. That work is considered permanent construction activities, and no one can proceed with permanent construction activities until they have a Chapter 91 license. The current clean up work on the land is not required to have a Chapter 91 license.
At the same time, several environmental leaders spoke against the appeal and asked Mayor Curtatone to abandon his appeal.
“We support the clean up of contaminated industrial sites,” said George Bachrach of the Massachusetts Environmental League. “We support the revitalization of polluted rivers. We support economic development. We support subsidies for mass transit. That’s what the Wynn Resort project is about. If you take out the gambling from the equation and this were a hotel with retail elements, this would be a slam-dunk. This is essentially what you have across the river only there will be fewer cars coming here than at Assembly Row. The Assembly Row is a victim of its own success. It’s begun the revitalization of the Mystic River and it should continue here in Everett.”
He added, “[Joe Curtatone] is a good man and cares deeply about his city. The environment is not the issue to challenge this site on…We believe the environmental issues are straightforward. They may have other concerns, but on the environmental license appeal, we believe there are no merits.”
Additionally, EK Singh of the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) said they believe that the Chapter 91 license should move forward.
He also said he felt the length of the license, which is 85 years and has been in dispute, is perfectly acceptable.
“We looked at similar licenses nearby and found that one was 65 years, another was 65 years and a third was 70 years,” he said. “We do find the length of time for the license was appropriate.”
Julie Wormser of the Boston Harbor Association said a successful Chapter 91 appeal in Somerville’s Assembly Square of the proposed IKEA store some years ago was acceptable, and righted what would have been a wrong. However, this situation with Wynn Everett is much different.
“They were right and won their appeal of IKEA,” she said. “Wynn Everett is a very different situation…From the beginning Wynn Resorts has acknowledged its Chapter 91 requirements and proposed a number of thoughtful amenities that help people participate and enjoy the harbor.”
The best was saved for last, however, as Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria called on Curtatone to drop the appeal – inviting up several long-time Everett residents from the area who had suffered through living next to toxic pollution almost all of their lives.
“One person is stopping all of this from happening,” he said. “We all know this if frivolous. That’s what’s wrong with this and that’s what’s wrong with doing business in Massachusetts. Mr. Wynn is into this already like $200 million. I think if Mr. Wynn didn’t have tied to Revere and Boston, he would have left a long time ago…One person denying all of this is wrong. He should be held accountable for his actions like the rest of us are. We’ve been kicked aside too long. We’ve been punished and we have a company that wants to clean this up.”
MyRWA disclosed that Wynn Everett had paid sponsorships to its organization at fundraisers, but the other two environmental organizations indicated they have had no notable financial support from the casino.