Area communities to meet on casino issues
Representatives from communities surrounding Middleboro will meet in Lakeville next week to decide what steps they can take now that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has a host agreement with Middleboro to build a casino.
The tribe has said a casino is coming in some form. Class 2 gambling is currently allowed in Massachusetts, and Gov. Deval L. Patrick is considering legalizing Class 3 gaming to bring some much needed revenue in to the state.
"The tribe has the authorization to open a Class 2, but a Class 3 needs state approval," said Stephen C. Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District.
Regardless of what the state allows, a casino is coming.
Tribal Chairman Glenn Mar shall said a Class 2 gaming hall would pull in about $800 million annually, versus a $1 billion take in a Class 3 facility.
With a casino comes traffic, and communities across the re gion fear they will be left out of the mitigation now that the tribe has signed a deal with Middleboro.
"They want to make sure they have a voice at the (negotiating) table," Smith said. "There's concern in other communities, and revenue sharing is a big one. Middleboro's getting all this money and the others aren't getting anything.”
Top on the list of concerns is who is going to pay for extensive upgrades to Route 44. The agreement calls for the tribe to seek state and federal funding.
"The real concern is there's not enough funding to go around," Smith said. "The needs far out strip the pool of dollars avail able."
Smith said upgrades are crucial for Route 44, but local communities might "push back" if the tribe attempts to gobble up highway funding. "If the state puts up the money, it will be using income from the casino.
If it's spent on highway, that's kind of a wash," said Roland J. Hebert, transportation planning manager and deputy director of SRPEDD.
Hebert believes the estimated $150 million for upgrades is not enough. He said that figure could reach $300 million.
"If the tribe prepares to pay for all the mitigation, what if Route 44
alone costs $300 million? There's no funding and that could hold up the trust process," Hebert said.
"When it comes down to who's going to pay for improvements, the tribes needs to come up with the entire amount of money to do Route 44, or they're going to have problems getting it built," Hebert said.
Hebert said if the tribe does not pay for the upgrades, "The tribe's not going to get a state permit to touch Route 44. Failing to do that will effect taking the land into trust."
"The developers agree the tribe is responsible for insuring improvements to Route 44," said tribal spokesman Scott M. Ferson. "The developers agree (the casino) will only be successful if peo ple can get to it. If it costs more, the tribe is responsible. The improvements will get done, they need to get done."
"It is a critical component being able to get to it," Ferson said. "The
tribe will pay for the improvements needed."
Hebert said a casino will bring at least 20,000 vehicles a day. Other
than Route 44, there are many other highways that will be affected, such as Interstate 495, routes 105, 106 and 18.
"There's a lot more roads than just Route 44. We are getting per mission to do an analysis. The key is which roads will be used to get there. Some may have congestion," Herber said.
Ferson said there are lots of other problems with the state highway system that are separate from the casino.
"There are problems that don't belong to the tribe. The tribe is not a
transportation slot machine," he said.
Smith said there are other road projects that could be in need of
mitigation if they handle casino traffic.
"For ex ample, traffic coming from New Bedford to the casino might be using routes 140 and 70. There are several other intersections that could be a problem," Smith said.
Smith said a dozen cities and towns that will feel the impact from the casino are meeting in Lakeville Aug. 8 to form a committee that will lobby the state to insure they are represented when the governor negotiates a compact with the tribe.
Ferson said the tribe is now beginning the process to take the Middleboro land into a federal trust.