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Town officials discuss potential adverse effects of MGM casino

Date: 8/22/2013

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW – Town officials and representatives from MGM Springfield recently commenced a dialogue regarding mitigation of potential adverse effects on the community.

On Aug. 5, MGM met with a panel of town government and public safety representatives, including Selectman Angela Thorpe, Town Administrator Nick Breault, Planning Board member and Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) liaison George Kingston, Fire Chief Paul Morrissette, Police Sgt. Richard Bates, Superintendent of Schools Gordon Smith and Council on Aging (COA) Director Carolyn Brennan in the media room at the COA.

Reminder Publications was invited to attend the meeting by Thorpe, however, was asked to leave shortly after the meeting began at the behest of MGM representatives, who explained that while appreciative of the newspaper’s coverage, they were following the standard protocols the company had for discussions of this kind with all abutting communities. Two members of the public who were not media were allowed to stay.

Addressing the meeting with MGM at the Aug. 6 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Thorpe said, “[MGM] notified us that they were interested in meeting with us here in East Longmeadow. Basically it was just a meet and greet type of thing to find out what our concerns were.”

Kingston told Reminder Publications it was “a good initial meeting” that not only gave MGM a better understanding of East Longmeadow, but also allowed officials to get a grasp on exactly how the mitigation process would play out.

“I think the meeting went pretty much as expected,” he said. “They expressed the fact that they want to work with towns to mitigate potential issues that may arise as a result of the existence of a casino in Springfield, but this casino isn’t a giant piggy bank. If we have traffic problems now, they’re not going to pay to alleviate those.”

Kingston explained that in order to receive mitigation funding, the town must be able to adequately show that any issues were a direct result of the casino and to do that more data on the town needs to be collected.

“What I think it brought to light for a lot of people is the fact that we have a lot of numbers to come up with to identify baseline services,” he said. “By establishing baselines, we can demonstrate more accurately what the impacts have been.”

Kingston added that the meeting gave the town the opportunity to tout its own services and available resources, such as the industrial garden park.

Smith said his primary goal in attending the meeting was to ascertain what the impacts on enrollment could be.

“I got a better idea of what they think about when addressing that, but I didn’t get any specific information,” he said. “They said they would work on getting data on similar areas that have been affected by the introduction of casinos.”

Smith went on to say that in more general terms, of the approximately 3,000 permanent jobs MGM estimates adding to the local economy, roughly 10 percent of the people filling those positions would be relocating to the area, but exactly how many of those would settle in East Longmeadow is unclear.

Also up in the air is whether or not the town will join the PVPC in mitigation efforts.

Kingston explained that according to regulations established by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, each company can choose whether or not to negotiate with a regional planning entity. While Hard Rock has opted not to negotiate with the PVPC, MGM has not made a decision and likewise, East Longmeadow has not.

“There are advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “The PVPC has a lot of resources, a good understanding of traffic flows, professional planners and can utilize one consultant rather than each town hiring their own. On the other hand, some of each communities’ specific concerns may be pushed back in consideration of the interests of the entire regional group.”