|By Chris Maza
Town Manager Stephen Crane discussed casino mitigation at the Sept. 3 Select Board meeting.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Seemingly unimpressed with the headway made by Town Manager Stephen Crane, the Select Board voted to establish a casino sub-committee made up of Select Board Chair Marie Angelides and Selectman Paul Santaniello to help oversee steps that need to be taken regarding upcoming mitigation negotiations.
Santaniello made the motion after a lengthy discussion on the casino issue at the Sept. 3 meeting, during which he, along with fellow Selectmen Mark Gold and Alex Grant spoke to the lack of information the board has received and their feeling that the town was running out of time.
At its Aug. 14 meeting, the board had empowered Crane to oversee preparations for mitigation talks.
At issue is how Longmeadow will be affected by either MGM in Springfield or Hard Rock in West Springfield and how the town would be compensated.
“This sub-committee would increase the flow of information to the Select Board,” Santaniello said. “This isn’t intended to slow things down, but to make sure the things we talk about here actually happen. We were ill prepared for tonight’s meeting to discuss the things we need to discuss.”
Gold said he was in favor of the motion because he felt there needed to be better communication between the town manager and the board regarding the issue, adding he hoped Crane would not “lean on the sub-committee,” a comment to which Crane took offense, stating the reason why he did not provide more information was because he has yet to receive it, despite the fact he has been speaking with the players involved with issues such as traffic studies on a regular basis.
“What I’m hearing is that we need a sub-committee to watch me, even though a lot of the issues we have are beyond my control and because things beyond my control are not moving fast enough,” Crane said. “I look forward to having people involved in this process and become as frustrated as I am. I welcome that.”
Angelides said it was “not a matter of babysitting.”
The conversation began when Grant made a motion that the town adopt a resolution that he drafted stating the board’s position that it was against a casino in Springfield or West Springfield. The motion was defeated.
Grant’s resolution read, “Whereas the placement of a casino in the cities of Springfield or West Springfield would alter the character of the Town of Longmeadow and diminish the quality of life for Longmeadow’s residents;
“Whereas the placement of a casino in the cities of Springfield or West Springfield would impose real social and financial costs on the Town and residents of Longmeadow that are not easily quantifiable or that would not be recognized by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as requiring mitigation by a casino developer;
“Whereas the placement of a casino in the cities of Springfield or West Springfield is likely to impose real and quantifiable financial costs on the Town of Longmeadow that will not be adequately compensated under a Surrounding Community agreement between the Town of Longmeadow and a casino developer located in Springfield or West Springfield;
“Whereas the placement of a casino in city of Springfield is likely to harm the town and residents of Longmeadow more than a casino in West Springfield due to Longmeadow’s greater proximity to Springfield;
“The Longmeadow Select Board strongly urges the Massachusetts Gaming Commission not to issue a license to operate a casino in the city of Springfield and urges the Massachusetts Gaming Commission not to issue a license to operate a casino in the city of West Springfield.”
Grant said he “didn’t see any upside for Longmeadow” from a casino, adding he was “afraid the down sides will be severe.”
Gold said he believed it was “important to take a stand,” but said he wasn’t ready to vote on such an action.
Selectman Richard Foster said the resolution was full of assumptions and he would prefer to wait until solid information, such as the traffic study, were completed, prompting the discussion on the study and complaints by members of the board of a lack of communication from the town manager regarding its progress and a timeline for its completion.
“I have people asking me questions and I don’t know the answers and I am in a position where I should know,” Gold said.
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) is conducting a regional study, Crane said, but there had been no update from them on a timeline or what the scope of work would include. He said he has been reaching out to engineers at the direction of the board in order for the town to do its own study if it so chooses. Some he spoke to, he said, had conflicts, but he was scheduled to meet with an engineering group on Sept. 6.
Grant said it was his understanding that the town had approximately two months in which to get a completed traffic study, and any other studies or information to be completed, and negotiate a surrounding community agreement and given that timetable, the town should take action.
He made a motion that the board would agree at the meeting to hire its own traffic consultant to perform the traffic study.
Gold, citing his fear of “delays and runaround,” agreed that the town should explore moving forward on its own. He added that the PVPC’s track record regarding timeliness and meeting deadlines did not make him comfortable. He said that instead of rushing into a decision on Sept. 3, he wanted Crane to talk to the PVPC and get information on who is conducting the study, when it is getting done and what the scope of work includes.
Grant retorted that he felt the town was already “behind the eight ball” in terms of preparations and relying on others would only further handicap the town’s ability to protect itself in negotiations.
“MGM has every incentive to slow-walk this,” he said. “That way, the closer to the deadline it is, the harder it would be for communities to decide to do their own studies.”
Crane pointed out that in waiting for the PVPC, the board was following the approach it agreed upon in allowing MGM to do its own studies and respond, adding, “I’m not slow-walking this.”
Grant said he never supported allowing MGM to do its own studies, but Crane responded that was what the board decided.
Santaniello agreed with Grant, adding that the town doesn’t lose anything by spending money on its own study.
“If our study has the same results as the PVPC’s study, all we’ve done is strengthened our argument for negotiations,” he said.
Crane said he felt the board’s feelings that they were behind in negotiation preparations were not accurate, based on conversations with various people involved in the process throughout the state.
“There’s no playbook for all of this and I think that’s where the uneasiness and lack of confidence is stemming from,” he said.
Grant’s motion failed, but Angelides said the issue would be on the Sept. 9 meeting agenda.
Santaniello also criticized the fact that resumes for potential law firms to act as special counsel for the town in negotiations were not included in the selectmen’s packets despite the fact there was an agenda item on the subject.
Crane said he had received three responses from the town’s request for qualifications on Aug. 29, 30 and Sept. 3 and had since heard from an additional three firms who heard of Longmeadow’s interest. He said he told those firms to get him their responses as soon as possible.
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