The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and local Taunton officials have just received their first victory that moves them even closer to building the proposed casino in Tauton as early as spring of 2016. The green light has been given to the $30 million highway project, which will divert traffic from Route 24 to Route 124 junction, where the casino resort will be built. Although the targeted opening date is set to take place in two years, it could still possibly open sooner than proposed casinos in Everette and Springfield. “Project First Light” is estimated to cost upwards of $500 million. It will also be the largest Casino in the state of Massachusetts.
In a Friday morning news conference at Taunton City Hall, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedrid Cromwell spoke about the casino plans in front of a crowd of applauding tribe members. When asked about any potential lawsuits regarding the tribe’s efforts, Cromwell responded that he knew of no legal action as of this date. Cromwell went on to say that he is glad that all of the hurdles and obstacles that were in the way are now a thing of the past. “We can now move forward and make this a reality,” says Cromwell.”
The U.S. Department of Indian Affairs cleared the way by approving the 320 acres of land in Tauton and Mashpee into a federal trust. Cromwell says the announcement is a victory for his tribe and the community. Although the 137-page ruling is all but etched in stone, many believe this will not stop opponents from filing a lawsuit to halt the casino plans. Some Tauton officials are citing a 2009 Supreme Court ruling regarding federal jurisdiction and the Indian Reorganization Act.
Mashpee tribe attorney Arlinda Locklear says that he has no doubt that the decision will hold up under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Although Cromwell deflected many questions regarding potential lawsuits, he did remark that anything could happen and if so, they (the tribe) would be ready. “We have always received some backlash,” says Mashpee Tribal Elder Ramona Grant. “There is a small group against what we are doing, but for the most part, people have been very receptive.”
At the same news conference, Tauton Mayor, Tom Hoye, offered his seal of approval regarding the recent events. Joined at the podium by city officials and tribal leaders, Hoye said that the land will be the tribe’s first official reservation in over 12,000 years of existence. “The casino will have special operations status and sovereignty under federal jurisdiction. In an negotiated agreement, the tribe has also agreed that the state of Massachusetts will receive gambling revenue in the amount of 17%.
Another bonus to the construction is the highway mitigation. Route 24 and Route 124 have always had major traffic congestion issues. The Southbound ramp from 24 to 140 will alleviate all that. Traffic engineers from Howard Stein Hudson are overseeing the highway construction. “The bottle-necking that used to occur will be a thing of the past,” says lead engineer David Matton. Harts Four Corners, a stretch known for major accidents, is one of the first areas to get attention, according to Matton.
Although the venture will be quite an undertaking, Matton is certain it can be done both quickly and properly. “The traffic will flow freely and the East Tauton neighborhoods will be a lot safer with the new improvements.”
Other city officials who spoke at the event include Rep. Shauna O’Connell, R Taunton, State Sen. Mark Pacheco, D-Taunton and State Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset. O’Connell remarked that she is pleased to see the tribe get lands back that were rightfully theirs to begin with. “It’s great to see 12,000 years of heritage and culture being acknowledged,” says O’Connell. Cromwell thanked many city, state and local officials for helping see the venture finally reach fruition. Cromwell extended special thanks to local businessman Terry O’Quinn for his efforts in promoting the casino referendum.
O’Quinn has always been an outspoken advocate for the casinos. “It was my belief that the casinos were a good thing for the community.” He went on to talk about how he went door to door to get citizens on-board with the project. “We could use a jolt to our economic community, and the casinos will bring good jobs.”
The city of Taunton has been in an economic free fall for several years. According to the Mayor’s office, the casino will bring 3,500 badly-needed jobs to the area. Hoye also says that the millions going into the city coffers will help the city hire more police officers, firemen and provide much needed upgrades to the city infrastructure. “This is a win-win situation,” says Hoye. The area on the Mashpee lands where the casino is slated to be built is a long-abandoned industrial park. “This is the first step in healing the economic wounds caused by the manufacturing decline,” says Hoye.
Hoye says that it is his job to provide leadership and ensure that all of his constituents receive a fair shake. “It’s time to let others get some long-awaited prosperity.”