|By Carley Dangona
A view of the Gate 9 path at the Big E. The wildlife refuge (left) is directly across from the open lot.
Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD Despite the presence of rare species on Big E grounds, both the Eastern States President and the chair of Hard Rock International don't believe that will affect their plans for building a casino there.
Maps available on the Natural Heritage and Endagered Species Program (NHESP) website, www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/nhesp/nhesp.htm, depict areas of habitat for rare species and wetlands that would require Hard Rock to abide by NHESP regulations to ensure the area is not encroached upon by the implementation of the destination casino.
Restrictions could pertain to how the foundation of the casino is built if designated as a flood zone and how far from the habitat any construction can occur to provide a buffer zone to ensure the animals are not impacted.
Reggie Zimmerman, assistant press secretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, declined to comment on which regulations the development could be subject since the agency has yet to review plans since the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is still reviewing applications for casinos.
Signs at Gate 9 of the fairgrounds provide information about some of the animals that can be seen there, including the great blue heron, the painted turtle and the bald eagle, a NHESP threatened species.
Chapter 131A of general law, the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act defines "alter" in its first section as "to change the physical or biological condition of a habitat in any way that detrimentally affects the capacity of the habitat to support a population of endangered or threatened species."
The same section also states, "A threatened species is any species of plant or animal likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range ..."
Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the ESE, said, "I've been with the Big E for nearly 20 years and I've never seen a bald eagle on the property." He added that he usually sees wild turkeys on the property around September of each year.
Cassidy continued, "I don't expect the habitats will be disturbed in any way. I think the development will have a positive impact on the wildlife and that there will be more wildlife than ever before [because there would now be sufficient maintenance of the area to sustain animals]. I suspect the lagoons will be more conducive for wildlife."
Jim Allen, chair of Hard Rock International, told Reminder Publications, "We have not hired someone specifically to study this issue. We are conducting studies of the flood plain, egress, traffic and civil impact of the project and through these, with the exception of the traffic study, any impact to wildlife in the area would be discovered. Upon such indication, we would petition another group to research the issue. We're 100 percent willing to participate and do whatever it takes [to meet NHESP standards]."
Allen continued, "The area for the casino is already cleared we're not upsetting the forest and don't anticipate any issues."
He noted that "Save the Planet" is one of Hard Rock's core values and said that the company is open to implementing options such as fencing and/or signs to prevent disruption of the animals and their habitat.
"Our track record is very respectful of our motto 'Love all. Serve all. Save the Planet.' Our brand excels at doing so," Allen said.
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