|By Chris Maza|
WILBRAHAM – While faced with a truncated timetable to have the proper studies done and negotiate with the gaming companies, the Board of Selectmen have made the right moves when it comes to addressing the possibility of a casino in Western Massachusetts, according to state Sen. Gale Candaras and state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr.
The selectmen, along with Town Administrator Robert Weitz, Town Counsel Michael Hassett and Planning Director John Pearsall are preparing to discuss mitigation for potential impacts a casino would have on the town, with traffic on the Boston Road/Route 20 corridor being of particular interest.
“I know the selectmen are very concerned, as are other town officials, as well as myself and Sen. Candaras, in terms of what the impact is going to be for additional traffic in that corridor,” Puppolo said.
Palmer residents voted against a casino in the town’s Nov. 5 referendum, ending Mohegan Sun’s run at a development, pending a potential recount. Candaras, speaking to Reminder Publications the day before the vote, said the difficulty comes in not having any concrete way of predicting the specific impacts. She projected, however, that a Springfield casino would be a better for Wilbraham.
“It’s hard because any impacts right now are speculative,” she said. “Should the ultimate licensee be Springfield, I don’t think the impacts would be as great [in Wilbraham] as if the licensee was Palmer.”
That said, she and Puppolo praised town officials for doing everything possible with the information and resources made available to them.
Wilbraham has accepted an offer from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) to act as the consultant that will peer review MGM’s traffic impact study for its Springfield Casino. The PVPC was also chosen to vet Mohegan Sun’s study. Special counsel has also been retained to assist in negotiations.
“Right now, I think the initial steps they are taking are important to preserve their standing in the mitigation process and to make sure they get money and have the resources to make sure the town has what they need moving forward,” Puppolo said.
Candaras also credited town officials with being active in communicating with Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chair Stephen Crosby and added she has had several meeting with him to address Wilbraham’s concerns.
Puppolo commended the town’s officials for making sure they “have a seat at the table to make sure their voices are heard by both Mohegan and [MGM].” Discussions with the gaming companies regarding impacts, he added, must extend beyond dollars figures.
“It’s going to evolve. Initially there are going to be some issues that they’re going to see that are predominant and there could be others down the road that we’re not even thinking about right now,” Puppolo continued. “I think that’s where the discussion and dialogue are very important.”
Puppolo also praised the Legislature for ensuring that those discussions were required as a measure to protect surrounding communities.
“When we passed the initial bill, we made sure the process had to take place and surrounding communities had to be taken care of,” he said. “It’s the onion approach, if you will, of making sure those communities closest to these projects and are going to be most impacted can get the lion’s share of the mitigation.
“We planned it that way and I think it’s working well. I’d like to see discussions move along faster because we are getting close to when these things are going to be decided by the Gaming Commission, but I think all in all, the proposal that are out there are going the way we planned in the legislation. We took into account the host communities and we took into account the neighboring communities,” he continued.
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