For the past eighteen months, the Mystic River Watershed Association has closely followed proposed plans for hotel/casino facilities on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett. Now that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has voted to award a casino license to Wynn Everett it is important to reflect upon the ways that this enormous project may change the Mystic River Watershed.
From our very first comments, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) has encouraged both the proponent and the Gaming Commission that Wynn Resorts has an extraordinary opportunity and an obligation to make significant contributions to the revitalization of the Mystic River waterfront and to restoration of natural habitat, including water quality, as part of its efforts. It remains our position that the Wynn Resorts team can make a big difference – there are certainly many opportunities for good work.
MyRWA pointed out in its comments on the Environmental Notification Form (ENF), for example, that emergence of new salt marsh adjacent to the project site gave evidence that restoration of river bank and tidal habitat was feasible at the Wynn property. MyRWA recommended a more naturalist approach to site development and to the water’s edge. At the same time, we recommended substantial increases in public open space and access and urged that off-site connections be made to allow for improved pedestrian and bicycle circulation along the waterfront. The Wynn Resorts development team embraced these concepts and substantially modified their design. Expanded public open space along a new “Living Shoreline” was included in subsequent iterations of the Wynn development plan.
We applaud these efforts to expand and enhance public open space and to restore nearby tidal and wetland areas. This innovative approach can serve as an important model for future development and salt marsh and habitat restoration along the Mystic River. The “Living Shoreline” will provide greater capacity for storm surges and sea level rise and will allow these to be more naturally attenuated. Proposed improvements of area bicycle and pedestrian pathways will help connect visitors to the local natural environment and to the Mystic River.
Restoration of this long vacant Brownfield to productive use can provide substantial benefit to Mystic River communities and to water quality and natural life. It is important however that Wynn Resorts continues to do more to protect and preserve the Mystic River and its watershed and MyRWA will steadfastly advocate for those results.
There will be many things to consider as this project moves forward through the permitting process – traffic, impacts on local businesses and surrounding communities and apprehensions about expanded gaming in the Commonwealth. We respect the concerns our members and residents of Mystic River communities have with regard to these issues. Our focus will remain on the health and well being of the Mystic River. From our perspective, the size and scope of the development warrants that proponents ensure this project produces overwhelmingly positive results for the Mystic River and the local natural environment.
The Mystic River Watershed Association will continue to closely monitor plans for the Wynn Resorts development and will remain in close contact with the development team and with relevant authorities during the permit stages.
We are encouraged by improvements to the site plan made to date, by proposed mitigations and by the stated commitment of the Wynn Resorts development team to set high standards of excellence with regard to site design and environmental protection. We will certainly keep our members and concerned stakeholders closely posted.
EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director