Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners (MGC) met with Charlestown residents last Wednesday at the Schrafts building to discuss the designation of Wynn Everett as the recipient of the Boston-area casino license.
Commissioners James McHugh and Gayle Cameron were on hand to answer any questions and clear up any confusion Charlestown residents had regarding the process and moving forward.
Rep. Dan Ryan, who called the MGC to Charlestown was also on hand and told the audience that short of repeal in November this meeting will be a process that Charlestown residents are going to have to repeat over and over for the next three years to “get this thing done right”.
“Like it or not that may be the reality,” said Ryan. “I’m going to get to know you folks a whole lot more because I intend to see this thing through if that’s where it’s going right until the end. I live one mile from there. There is no elected official in the Commonwealth that lives closer to a proposed casino than I do.”
Ryan added that he wakes up every morning worrying about Charlestown and goes to bed worrying about Charlestown. “That will not change whether there’s a casino here or not,” he said. “And I welcome you all to join on that ride. I know you all care too that’s why you’re here.”
Commissioners McHugh and Cameron began the evening with a presentation which highlighted conditions imposed on the license award.
“I understand that some of you, perhaps many of you in the room are unalterably opposed to gambling,” said McHugh. “I also understand that some of you though not unalterably opposed to gambling are unalterably opposed to gambling here because of its potential impact on the community. And I respect those views. I’m not sure I can change those views. In fact, I’m not going to try tonight to change those views. I respect them. You have them, many others have them. I understand that. But what I do hope we can do, echoing Representative Ryan tonight, is explain to you what the mitigation pieces of the license award were, answer some of the questions that you’ve asked through Representative Ryan. And then as I said hear from you of things you want us to hear, know about and think about as this process goes forward. So, that’s the objective for this evening and I look forward.”
During a powerpoint presentation the Commissioners highlighted the condition that Wynn pay up to $76 million in mitigation payments to the City of Boston for roadway improvements and other remediation. The condition that Wynn implement all MEPA-required short-term improvements to Sullivan Square regardless of cost The condition that Wynn shall use good faith efforts to create a Boston construction and operations hiring preference.
Talking about the traffic mitigation to Sullivan Square and other roads in Boston that will be impacted by the Wynn Everett casino, Commissioner Cameron explained how the MGC, as a condition of awarding the license, increased the amount from $46 million to $76 million.
The MGC’s traffic consultant Rick Moore said Wynn is to pay $25 million for the long-term Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue plan provided it accommodates casino traffic.
“And that’s $2.5 million over 10 years,” said Moore. “In addition, this amount is in addition to the short-term mitigation required through MEPA which will be presumably somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million. Probably more because they have to enhance their current proposal. So, you have the $6 million then you have the $25 million. And then the third component of cost is that traffic reduction,traffic incentive payment. And the way that works is that each year Wynn will pay $20,000 for each vehicle trip above the number of Friday peak hour vehicle trips determined through the city of Boston roadway improvement permit process.”
Moore said that penalty will go into a pot that is used for the long-term solution for Sullivan Square.
“So, if they don’t meet their mode split, they pay the incentive cost and that goes into the pot,” said Moore. “So, if you add the different pots as Commissioner Cameron said earlier, you have the $25 million and you have six-odd million dollars, then you have the potential of another $20 million. So, that adds up in the neighborhood of $50 million that’s available for the Sullivan Square long-term solution.”
Once the meeting moved into question from the audience, Rep. Dan Ryan asked the Commissioners how stripping Boston of surrounding community status was helpful to the process in dealing with mitigation and why Boston was not considered a host community–a status that would have meant a cash windfall for Charlestown.
Cameron said the MGC had to look at this issue but in the end, to make the decision on host community status, the commission really relied on the gaming statute which says it describes host community in terms of geography.
“So we really relied on that to make the final decision that in fact Boston was not a host community with this project,” he said. Now, the surrounding community is a different matter. Certainly, we believe that Boston is likely to experience impacts, which is why we spent so much time in our evaluations focusing on mitigation for Charlestown and the city as a whole. With regard the word stripping, to proceed with the licensing process we needed to– in order to move forward with the application, it could not be complete legally without a surrounding community agreement.”
Cameron said the MGC needed to de-designate Boston and take the responsibilities for the impacts.
“We took that responsibility seriously,” said Cameron. “And as we talked about earlier in the presentation, looked every aspect, looked at every impact, had our consultants take a look at everything. We talked a lot about transportation. We did this because Boston’s decision not to participate in the arbitration and that resulted in the loss of the surrounding community status. But we made it clear and we continue to make it clear that Boston can reach a surrounding community agreement with Wynn despite the fact that there was not an arbitration process.”
Another question regarded whether or not Charlestown residents will have input in the master plan for Sullivan Square. Residents were concerned that after 20 years of planning with the city and state they would now be cut out of the process and planning will be left to Wynn.
“Wynn is coming up with the plan because it is their responsibility to come up with a plan,” said Moore. “But it is a plan that has to be embraced by the state Department of Transportation because they have responsibility for the off-ramp and the city of Boston. And that’s why the current plan in the final EIR needs additional work. Wynn cannot put a shovel in the ground until the city of Boston, presumably with your input and MEPA process with your input approves this process. It cannot happen without your input.”
Although some in the audience like Jenn Herlihy were still skeptical and felt the current mitigation would not be enough.
“People are going to cut through Bunker Hill,” he said. “And they’re going to cut through Main Street and Medford. And we have kids out there. And everything we’ve built, everything we’ve done in Charlestown trying to make this a great community is going to be taken away by one man who just wants to put money in his pocket. It’s going to take away from our cities and towns on the lottery money. And it absolutely makes no sense.”
Another resident said she was scared by the whole process.
I have two issues. One, to me it’s very frightening that there’s a 10-year, never mind the traffic, there’s a 10-year period that anything can be done. And everything that I heard is 10 years, 10 years, 10 years,” she said. “That gives him (Wynn) 10 years to destroy this town. And it’s a little town. Unfortunately, I’m not getting any say in what’s going on. And it frightens me.”