Neighboring communities lay out concerns about casino

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A group representing 17 southeastern Massachusetts communities met on Aug. 27 with the state’s economic development secretary to discuss the potential consequences of the casino that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe seeks to build in Middleborough.

The main purpose of the Regional Task Force on Casino Impacts, according to Lakeville Selectmen Chair Nancy Yeatts, is to ensure that cities and towns throughout the region would be involved in the planning of any casino project and share in compensation related to the project.

In a 90-minute meeting with Housing and Economic Development Secretary Daniel O’Connell, the group discussed the effects of additional traffic on the region’s roads and the possibility that road improvements needed for a casino could divert money away from other transit-related projects. The group also expressed concerns about strain on the groundwater supply in the Taunton River Basin, the need for additional police and other public safety personnel, and increased pressure on local housing and schools.

O’Connell chairs Gov. Deval Patrick’s gaming study group, and many of the issues raised during the meeting had been addressed previously in briefing materials the study group has sent on to the governor, according to O’Connell’s spokeswoman, Kofi Jones. But she said the meeting was productive because it identified more of the specific concerns of Middleborough’s neighbors. A six-page “Statement of Concern” the task force assembled also has been sent on to the governor, who is expected to announce his position on gaming in September.

Yeatts said the task force came together swiftly as Middleborough was preparing to grant preliminary approval to plans for a $1 billion casino in late July. With the help of Lakeville Town Administrator Rita Garbitt and former Lakeville Selectman Chawner Hurd, Yeatts said she was able to quickly enlist the support of other communities as well as the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District and the Old Colony Planning District.

“I felt that as public officials, we didn’t have the luxury of taking a stand” in opposition to the casino, Yeatts said.

The task force’s message, she said, is that “these are our concerns that have to be taken into consideration – and can they be mitigated?”

The other communities represented on the task force are Acushnet, Berkley, Bridgewater, Carver, East Bridgewater, Freetown, Halifax, Kingston, Plymouth, Plympton, Raynham, Rochester, Taunton, Wareham, West Bridgewater and Whitman.

Written by MMA Associate Editor Mitch Evich