Wynn Resorts announced this week that construction of its planned Everett casino and hotel was “effectively on hold,’’ and that a spring groundbreaking would be delayed.
The company blames Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone for the delay because Curtatone’s administration filed an appeal of an environmental permit for the $1.7 billion resort. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief explanation of the ongoing casino saga.
What is Somerville appealing?
Because Wynn is building along the Mystic River, he had to obtain a state license for waterfront projects. Wynn has technically not yet received the license, but received notification in January that the Department of Environmental Protection “will approve the proposed structures.’’
That decision opened up a window for appeals. Somerville filed one in early February.
Curtatone, who opposed the state’s move to legalize casino gambling in 2011, has argued that the new traffic from the nearby casino will have a ripple effect on Somerville. He contends the resulting air pollution could cause health problems for the city’s residents.
The appeal against the license lists problems ranging from the length of the license—85 years—to the height of the hotel. It is separate from four lawsuits Somerville has previously filed in an effort to block the casino.
Why did Wynn put the project on pause?
The company is not allowed build on any part of the property that the waterfront license applies to prior to receiving the license. And it won’t receive the license until the appeal is heard.
The company can still do some remediation work and work not directly related to parts of the under the jurisdiction of the license, such as utility relocation, Wynn Everett President Robert DeSalvio said Wednesday. That work will continue during the appeal process, he said.
Wynn also announced a hiring freeze for the project, as well as the cancellation of seven upcoming job fairs, on Wednesday.
“There’s no sense for us to really gather up the troops if there’s nothing for them to do,’’ DeSalvio said.
How long will the appeal take?
The process involves a conference to see if a settlement can be reached before advancing to a hearing, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The pre-hearing conference is scheduled for March 10 and the hearing is scheduled for June 2, according to department spokesman Edmund Coletta.
The department says a full appeal process can last between six and 12 months, depending on the case. DeSalvio said the company would do “anything in our power to keep that process moving forward,’’ but said he’d expect the delay would last at least six months.
The Boston Heraldhas found examples elsewhere in Massachusetts of long project delays — and outright cancellations — as a result of the same sort of environmental appeal.
Wynn hopes Curtatone will drop the appeal in the near-term, and Wednesday’s press conference was largely intended to pressure him to do so. Curtatone, however, said he wouldn’t back down.
What does Somerville want?
Asked for specifics of what the city wanted from Wynn, Curtatone told CommonWealth magazine: “I’m not going to negotiate through the media.’’
But he called for a better traffic mitigation plan. He also said the city has not received much in the way of contact from Wynn to try and resolve the conflict. He specifically suggested that a call from Steve Wynn himself could help. (DeSalvio, however, responded: “Mr. Wynn is very busy running a global empire.’’)
Somerville is set to receive $650,000 per year from Wynn as part of a mitigation agreement the city signed in 2014, a figure that had been proposed by Wynn. Curtatone has begrudged that agreement. He had sought more money, but arbitrators sided with Wynn’s offer.
Curtatone has said the latest appeal is focused on the traffic concerns and is not a play for more money. But The Boston Globe reported Curtatone told Wynn lobbyists, prior to filing the appeal, that the city may not file it if Wynn offered the city more in mitigation payments. He also asked for Wynn’s help in bringing a hotel to Somerville’s Assembly Square, located just across the Mystic River from the casino site, according to the report.
Curtatone told the Globe the position was not contradictory. “I’m not saying money is not involved. It will cost money to address the impacts on health and environment,’’ he said.
DeSalvio said the company will not reopen the mitigation agreement. He pointed to the company’s agreement with Boston, struck last month after a long legal battle with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. The agreement includes payments over the next 10 years to mitigate casino traffic in the already car-logged area where the cities of Boston, Everett, and Somerville meet.
DeSalvio pledged that the company is “not going anywhere,’’ and that it “will get this amazing project done.’’ But for now, it wouldn’t be a great gamble to count on it getting started any time soon.