Wynn delays pollution cleanup at Boston-area casino site

Mar 9, 2016 10:52 AM

Wynn Resorts is delaying further cleanup of a heavily polluted, former Monsanto chemical plant site as its $1.7 billion casino project across the river from Boston continues to face legal challenges.

Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn’s development in Everett, Massachusetts, said Tuesday that the Las Vegas casino giant won’t proceed for now on the next phase of cleanup because its state environmental license is under appeal from the nearby city of Somerville.

The company began initial cleanup in October and in the next phase had planned to start dredging of parts of the Mystic River and cleaning up the shoreline to make way for the development of docks, a harbor walk and other public amenities, he said.

“We want to make sure we don’t run afoul of an environmental regulation or law,” DeSalvio said, speaking at the casino site Tuesday. “The long and the short of it is we’ve got to stop what we’re doing.”

The announcement comes after Wynn last month imposed a hiring freeze, cancelled job fairs and postponed a groundbreaking expected this spring, citing a series of legal challenges by Somerville.

The latest challenge is the city’s appeal of the state’s decision to grant the project a key state environmental permit for work in and along the Mystic River and its shoreline. On Thursday, the two sides are expected to go before state Department of Environmental Protection officials for an initial meeting on the challenge.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone dismissed Wynn’s Tuesday announcement as a “PR stunt” that distracts from the real issue at hand: resolving the casino’s substantial traffic and environmental impacts on his city.

“Wynn has known about our concerns for more than two years and has not reached out once to address them,” he said in a statement.

But George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, says he isn’t convinced Somerville’s complaint has merit, at least from an environmental perspective.

The casino project, he says, represents a boon to local environmental concerns, including cleanup of a contaminated industrial property, increased public access to waterways, reclamation of the long polluted river, and subsidizing the regional subway system.

“The environment is not the issue to be challenging this project on,” Bachrach said, joining Wynn officials and other environmental groups at the casino site Tuesday.

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria called on Somerville to drop its legal challenges, suggesting his city’s residents have suffered long enough from the pollution along its industrial waterfront.

Wynn hopes to open a hotel, casino and entertainment complex on roughly 33 acres overlooking Boston and Somerville by late 2018.

The site has been used for heavy industry since the late 1800s. Its longest owner was the Monsanto Chemical Co., which operated there from 1929 to about 1983. Environmental tests show the site’s soil, groundwater and river sediment still contain substantial levels of arsenic, lead, copper and other heavy metals.

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