Mayor Dan Rizzo expressed vindication this week when his repeated, and seemingly ignored, calls for a review of the land deal between Wynn Everett and the MBTA on Rt. 99 were finally recognized – and that recognition has put a likely delay in the process for Wynn’s traffic mitigation efforts in Charlestown and Everett.
The vindication came at 7 p.m. last Friday evening when the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Matthew Beaton, issued the long-awaited response to Wynn’s supplemental environmental filings, known as its SFEIR. That response declared that Wynn – despite making progress through continuous community meetings in Charlestown over the last few months – had not yet done enough to mitigate traffic. It also pointed directly at the MBTA land deal – calling it an illegal sale. It outlined five specific areas that needed to be addressed, including
It is a point that Rizzo has made in a handful of letters to the MBTA since last fall. The land deal, which involved selling 1.75 acres of land from the Everett T Maintenance facility to Wynn for $6 million – was first announced through a legal notice last August in the newspapers. After a comment period ran out, the sale continued on its course and closed last month. Wynn’s control of the land amounts to having an Everett-only entrance to the casino property, thus eliminating an entrance that was partially in Boston and partially in Everett and potentially gave Boston leverage over the process.
“I, and others, have been asking questions about the Illegal land transfer since last year,” Rizzo wrote in comments last Saturday. “Despite our pointing out to the T on multiple occasions the severe problems with the deal, including the lack of public review, violations of the T’s own procurement requirements, and the lack of compliance with MEPA, the T and Wynn went ahead with the sale anyway…It is simply not credible that this was an administrative or mere procedural mistake. It’s part of a blatant pattern of behavior that has plagued Wynn’s project from the start. Wynn is no victim here. Wynn and his legal team set the price and terms of the sale, designed the proposal process that somehow permitted Wynn to not have to submit a bid, and clearly had to be aware it was illegal all the while. One of its key lawyers in the process was a former MEPA Director who had an unfortunate e-mail exchange with his former agency. It’s time to get to the bottom of this matter and find the truth.”
Rizzo has also sent letters recently to Attorney General Maura Healey and to the State Inspector General’s Office. He has also called for a hearing on the matter before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC).
In the letter from Beaton, known as the MEPA letter, the land deal was outlined as a problem due to the fact that it occurred outside the MEPA environmental review process. It was, however, cited as a procedural mix up that could likely be straightened out.
“The SFEIR represents significant progress in identifying traffic and transportation impact,” read the letter. “While the SFEIR represents significant progress in identifying traffic and transportation impacts, there are still Scope items that were not fully addressed, including the identification of measures to ensure MBTA operations are protected in the long-term…In addition, the MBTA and (Wynn) completed a land transfer necessary to support the construction of access to the project site. MassDOT has acknowledged that the conveyance of land to the proponent prior to the conclusion of the MEPA process is a violation of the MEPA statute. Therefore, MassDOT and (Wynn) must file a Second SFEIR (SSFEIR) to develop appropriate remedies to satisfy the above-mentioned issues.”
In a letter from MassDOT, they acknowledged the error and said that it occurred as a result of a “breakdown” between MassDOT and the MBTA. It said that, despite already owning the property, Wynn has agreed to put the property in escrow.
“In relation to the inappropriate final agency action that occurred in this instance, the proponent has agreed to place the property in escrow until a Secretary’s Certificate of Adequacy is issued on the Wynn Casino and 60 days has elapsed since the publication in the Environmental Monitor of the final MEPA filing of the project,” read the MassDOT letter.
Secretary Beaton also cited negative comment letters from Boston, Revere and Somerville that were submitted as part of the Wynn SFEIR process. In particular, despite working with Wynn and the Charlestown community for months on traffic plans in Charlestown, Boston submitted a letter highly critical of the short-term traffic plans contained in the SFEIR.
“Comments from municipalities demonstrate that additional analysis and mitigation is necessary for the parties to satisfy the statutory requirement to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts…,” the MEPA letter read. “Governor Baker has made a firm commitment to elevate the Commonwealth’s partnership with cities and towns…The City of Everett and its citizens have expressed its firm support for this project and its economic development potential. Comments from the cities of Boston, Malden, Revere and Somerville identify significant concerns with the project’s impacts on transportation infrastructure…I am aware these comments are provided not only within the context of MEPA review, but also within the context of active litigation. Nonetheless, I note the practical consideration that much of the proposed transportation mitigation, including mitigation necessary to minimize impacts to roads under state jurisdiction, requires municipal review and approval.”
With that, Beaton issued five points that had to be worked on in order for Wynn to get the final sign offs in the MEPA process, including.
- Provide an explanation of and remedy for the premature conveyance of land from MassDOT/MBTA and its acceptance by the proponent prior to the completion of MEPA review.
- Commit to a specific dollar amount for an annual operating subsidy to the MBTA to support service and capacity improvements on the Orange Line.
- Clarification of the Traffic Impact Assessment and supplemental data and analysis, which essentially means that Wynn will continue working towards a long-term solution in Sullivan Square of Charlestown.
- Revised Draft Section 61 findings that incorporate commitments associated with the three above requirements.
- Response to comments document that provides clear and specific responses to issues raised.
All that said, Beaton indicated at the forefront of his letter that he didn’t expect the new requirements to derail the project, and that he also felt all items could be addressed in a timely manner.
“I am confident the limited scope items in the Second SFEIR can be addressed in a timely manner,” he wrote. “I want to recognize the significant time and energy that the proponent has invested in this project and in the preparation of the SFEIR. The SFEIR represents significant progress in identifying traffic and transportation impacts and developing appropriate mitigation…In addition, on behalf of the administration, I recognize the important balance between economic development and job creation and our responsibility to adequately avoid, minimize and mitigate damage to the environment.”
In a released statement over the weekend, Wynn Everett President Bob DeSalvio stressed that the new step in the process would delay the opening until 2018.
“The addition of this new and incremental step…will change our planned construction start and opening dates,” said DeSalvio. “While Wynn is gratified that the process is continuing to move forward and is committed to expeditiously respond to Secretary Beaton’s comments, we are disappointed that the new jobs and new tax revenues that would have helped so many people in the Commonwealth will be delayed. We’re gratified that after thousands of pages of analysis and years of review, the Secretary has generally endorsed all of our mitigation plans.”
On Monday night at a meeting in Charlestown, DeSalvio said the company is digesting the information in the letter – walking back the discussion of a delay.
“The document came out at 7 p.m. on Friday evening on a holiday weekend and it’s a pretty thick document,” he said at the meeting. “It’s going to take a lot of time to digest it. We will go through the document expeditiously…I can’t get into the details of everything in it. We started today (Monday) looking at the document and seeing what’s in it. I don’t know any timing on this or how long it will take. Our goal will be to move it along as quickly as possible.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria took the opportunity to voice his support of Wynn in a statement on Tuesday
“I have every confidence in Wynn Resorts and in Wynn Everett,” he said. “This project is a game-changer for my community and one that I have worked tirelessly to make a reality. I have every expectation that the people of Everett will see this reality come to life – and the benefits that come with it – once these issues are resolved and construction can begin. In the meantime, my team and I will continue our hard work to ensure that this development is built transparently, responsibly and with the full support of the City of Everett.”
Rizzo criticized DeSalvio’s confident position and said having a Second SFEIR is unprecedented according to people he has spoken with.
“It must be obvious to everyone that we cannot trust what the Wynn people are telling us,” he wrote. “They said that the Secretary’s Certificate was a confirmation of their mitigation plans and a new incremental step in the process. They then proceeded to blame Secretary Beaton and the Baker administration for their own incompetence and inability to adhere to the Commonwealth’s laws. They must not have actually read the document, which calls for far more work and mitigation and, which, as a supplemental filing of a supplemental filing of a ‘final’ environmental impact report, is unprecedented…”
Seth Daniel can be reached at [email protected]