By Seth Daniel
The Wynn Everett casino has found another mayor with a bone to pick regarding the $1.7 billion resort casino project – that being Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.
Just weeks after making peace with Boston and its mayor, Martin Walsh, Curtatone and his City filed a request for a hearing to challenge the state’s Chapter 91 waterways license that was just about to be awarded to the casino.
“It’s unfortunate that the Commonwealth’s gaming law leaves abutting communities heavily impacted by a casino project with few, if any, governmental remedies,” read an op-ed by Curtatone in the Somerville Times last week. “That left us no option but to seek legal remedies…The resolution of Boston’s lawsuit doesn’t change these legal concerns…Somerville’s lawsuits are looking to inject fairness and sanity into the process.”
And that decision to file the appeal of the license – which is critical to Wynn starting construction this May and could delay the start by months to a year – has riled many, especially Wynn. Wynn had expected to receive notification of its Chapter 91 license in April, and Friday was the last day for anyone to file an appeal in that process.
Speaking on Friday after learning of the appeal, Wynn officials said Curtatone’s decision was “selfish” and castigated him for wasting the time of numerous state officials.
“Mayor Curtatone, in a selfish, blatant attempt to politicize this issue for his own benefit, has filed this challenge to our environmental permit,” read a statement by Michael Weaver, of Wynn Resorts. “His action is shallow and obvious. The Mayor demonstrates his disrespect for the exhaustive work done by many state agencies in issuing this permit by filing an appeal to further his own personal political ambition. If the Mayor has aspirations to run for higher office, perhaps he should at least try to learn to have more respect for the law that the legislature passed and a project that would bring to the Commonwealth an investment exceeding $1.7 billion, along with thousands of jobs. We find it necessary to call out this selfish politician, when so many jobs and real benefits are at risk.”
The news for the City of Everett is particularly disappointing as it temporarily derails, possibly, the first building permit by Wynn – which was scheduled to be taken any day now and would have unlocked a $5 million payment to the City.
It likely will postpone the Site Plan Review process at the Everett Planning Board, which was scheduled to start this coming Monday, Feb. 22. It wasn’t certain if that would be the case, but many believed the process would likely be muddled due to the challenge of the critical Chapter 91 license.
That came as a great disappointment to Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who was ready to move on cooperatively with the process and the traffic mitigation.
“With the City of Everett just days away from issuing a building permit to Wynn Everett, I am extremely disappointed the City of Somerville has chosen to appeal this development,” said DeMaria. “It will certainly delay the development of this world-class destination resort in Everett. I will continue to work hard to make our vision for a revitalized and vibrant Everett a reality. The people of Everett deserve the benefits of this project, including an accessible restored waterfront, a bike path and public parks, ferry service, as well as the removal of the sewerage sludge plant and the cleanup of the Mystic River. The appeal needlessly delays the creation of real jobs for Everett and Somerville residents, for residents of Boston, and residents of the entire region- 4,000 construction jobs and 4,000 jobs when the casino opens.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who recently made peace with Wynn Everett, had no comment on the Somerville matter. A spokesperson said he was only glad to have reached an agreement that protects Charlestown.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which issues Chapter 91 waterways licenses, said they had no opinion on the appeal, and would set up a process according to the law.
“Consistent with the practices for the handling of any Chapter 91 project appeal, MassDEP will review the appeal, bring the parties together to adjudicate the issues raised in the appeal, and work in a timely manner to address the issues contained within the appeal,” said Ed Coletta, MassDEP spokesman.
DEP will now assign a hearing officer from the Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution. That officer will set up a timeframe as to when the pre-hearing conferences and hearings will be held, much like in a court proceeding. That hearing officer will review information submitted and can ask for more information.
The first step will be to bring the parties together and try to reach a settlement. If that cannot be done, the case will go to a hearing before the hearing officer. Once all parties are heard in that hearing process, the hearing officer will make a recommended final decision on the appeal and provide that to the Commissioner of DEP.
It will be up to the Commissioner of DEP to issue a final decision on that appeal. That process outlined above can take anywhere between six months to one year.
In the appeal filed on Friday, Feb. 12, Somerville has asked that the DEP’s Written Determination be vacated and sent back to consider all of the points brought up in the appeal – including the issuance of an extended license for 85 years instead of the usual 30.
“Should the Written Determination be reissued after such consideration, it should contain specific changes to address, among other things, a reduction of the license term, an increase in public amenities, and the public safety concerns with respect to the increased water transportation and other impacts on Somerville resulting from the Casino,” it read.
In the Somerville Times op-ed, Curtatone explains there are four lawsuits by Somerville still pending against the casino – including an appeal of the Municipal Harbor Plan, the height of the Wynn building and an appeal of the license award against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Most importantly, though, seems to be the traffic impacts and health impacts from traffic that Curtatone cites.
“When we put together the Assembly Row project, we went through a far more extensive environmental review,” he wrote. “On top of that, we addressed regional traffic concerns by adding the Assembly Square MBTA stop along the Orange Line to make it transit-oriented development, improving direct highway access and completely redesigning the road network inside Assembly Square in order to pull traffic more efficiently off of regional roadways. The Gaming Commission awarded a license before similar, necessary steps were taken with the Wynn casino. Simply put, the cart got put before the horse.”
And on the topic of pollution, he wrote, “The Wynn casino readily admits 18,000 people per day will be driving to its site, choking local roadways and pumping tons of extra exhaust into the air we breathe…Our contention is that MEPA has not addressed the severity of these impacts, nor identified proper mitigations for them.”