|By Carley Dangona|
SPRINGFIELD On May 31, Springfield and West Springfield officially began a collaborative effort to assess the impact of a casino on its host and surrounding communities, regardless of which community the license is granted to.
On May 29, James Ferrera III, president of the Springfield City Council, and Brian Griffin, vice president of the West Springfield Town Council and chair of its Casino Mitigation Subcommittee (TCCMC), announced the unprecedented joint effort.
At the press conference on May 31, Springfield City Council Vice President Bud Williams, Baystate Medical Center employee Maurice Thomas, West Springfield District 1 Councilor Angus Rushlow, West Springfield At-Large Councilor George Kelly, and West Springfield resident Susan LaFlamme and West Springfield Rotarian Nick LaPierre joined Ferrera and Griffin.
Springfield Ward 1 City Councilor Zaida Luna was absent, but will also take part in the subcommittee. West Springfield plans to add at least two more members, according to Griffin.
"We're here and we will be reckoned with we need a seat at the table," Griffin said. "Other communities are welcome to the table too. Agawam and West Springfield may be rivals on the playing field, but not on this matter."
Ferrera said, "This is an exciting time. It's critically important that we start these mitigation conversations now," adding that both communities will be affected by a casino built in either town because they share infrastructure such as bridges and roadways.
Griffin stated that the TCCMC was formed for the purpose of assessing how a casino in a neighboring community will impact surrounding communities.
"What sparked West Springfield's profound interest in this step [the subcommittee with Springfield] was the $500,000 [mitigation funds for surrounding communities] in the MGM Springfield host community agreement. That amount is woefully inadequate for a myriad of communities to split up."
Ferrera explained the dollar amount was agreed upon during negotiation of the host community agreement, which Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and MGM Springfield drafted.
"We're going to be having discussions on that [issue] obviously it's a concern for West Springfield," he said.
According to Ferrera, the subcommittee will assess any and all repercussions of a casino in the area to ensure that the quality of life in the Western Massachusetts region is not diminished.
Williams stressed this sentiment, "We need to look at this region as a whole; that was the intent of the legislation. I think this is a bold move a long time coming. It's well-timed and really needed."
Kelly said, "We want to make this a regional, economic engine."
Rushlow, whose district the Hard Rock New England resort casino is proposed for, said, "I like what I'm hearing from both sides."
Ferrara said that he expects both Hard Rock International and MGM Springfield will participate in subcommittee meetings sometime in the near future.
The subcommittee's first meeting is scheduled to take place June 6 at 5 p.m. in the office of the West Springfield Town Council, 26 Central St., West Springfield.
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