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Wilbraham to receive $75,000 in mitigation payments

Date: 12/19/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM – The Board of Selectmen signed a surrounding community agreement with MGM Springfield at its Dec. 12 meeting.

Board of Selectmen Chair James Thompson said the agreement would help the town’s leaders protect the interests of the community.

“This agreement gives us the tools to hire qualified consultants to make sure the town is compensated for any casino-related issues,” he said.

Town Administrator Robert Weitz told Reminder Publications the pact includes $75,000 annual mitigation payments for 15 years. Also, MGM’s proposed $25,000 a year to offset consultant fees were “frontloaded,” giving the town a total payment of $1.5 million over a 15 year period once the casino opens its doors.

“We asked for that $25,000 to be pushed up so we could work on some mitigation efforts in advance,” Weitz said.

The agreement also calls for “look backs” after years one and five to determine the net negative impacts the casino has had on the town.

“We won’t really know what the true impacts are until the casino opens,” Weitz said. “If the study shows costs of more than the $75,000, there is a reopener in the agreement that will allow the town to receive that money.”

Thompson praised the group appointed by the selectmen to address casino issues, which included Weitz, Planning Director John Pearsall, Fire Chief Francis Nothe, Police Chief Roger Tucker, Town Counsel Michael Hassett, all of whom worked with special counsel Jonathan Silverstein of Kopleman and Paige, P.C.

“It was a unique situation. Nowhere in the country were surrounding communities considered when casinos were put in before,” he said. “The task force we put together did an outstanding job, especially considering there was very little time to put something together.”

Weitz said he couldn’t say how much the recent unveiling of the third-party review of MGM’s traffic study by Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI), contracted by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, played into the town’s decision to settle with MGM. According to the report by GPI, Wilbraham would see a total of 36 additional vehicles per hour during peak traffic times – 18 on Boston Road and 18 on Springfield Street.

“I’m not sure how much that played into it,” he said. “There are a lot of factors and impacts that still aren’t known.”

With that in mind, Thompson said he welcomed the “look back” portion of the agreement, stating his opinion that it became especially necessary as the time constraints for gaming companies and towns to agree constricted. MGM and other casino developers have a deadline of Dec. 31 to submit their RFA-2 casino gaming license application. Surrounding community agreements are a requirement for those applications.

“I think the look back process is the result of people, including those at MGM, realizing that with the time constraints, it wasn’t possible to do the proper amount of due diligence to study potential impacts,” he said.

Timing, Thompson said, was constantly a concern for the board and, in hindsight, something that should have taken into account when the legislation was developed.

“The surrounding community agreement process was very condensed. Remember that for a time, Wilbraham was between two potential casinos and trying to work on two surrounding community agreements at one time,” he said, referring to MGM and Mohegan Sun in Palmer. The Mohegan Sun proposal was defeated after a referendum vote in Palmer on Nov. 5.