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Boston officials skip crucial Wynn casino meeting

The state Department of Transportation convened a working group to discuss long-term improvements for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.
The state Department of Transportation convened a working group to discuss long-term improvements for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood. David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo

The Walsh administration on Monday skipped the first meeting of a working group assembled to broker a peace agreement between Boston city officials and Wynn Resorts over the extra traffic that would be drawn into the city by the company’s proposed casino.

Boston’s failure to appear at the table represented the latest bureaucratic hurdle in the way of Wynn’s ambitious plans to build a $1.7 billion complex on the banks of the Mystic River, just over the Boston city limits in Everett.

The relationship between the Nevada company and Mayor Martin J. Walsh was already adversarial. The City of Boston sued the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in January over its approval of Wynn’s proposal and last month amended the suit to pack in more accusations against the panel.

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A spokeswoman for Walsh on Monday cited that lawsuit as the reason the mayor’s team was a no- show.

“Due to the ongoing litigation, any conversation relating to the lawsuit would be had through counsel,” spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said in a statement.

The state Department of Transportation convened the working group to discuss long-term improvements for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.

Agency spokesman Michael Verseckes called it the first step in a process aimed at mitigating the additional traffic expected from the Everett casino.

Monday’s meeting at 10 Park Plaza, the agency’s headquarters, included representatives from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration, the gaming commission, Wynn Resorts, the City of Everett, and the City of Somerville, according to state transportation officials.

The gathering can be traced to a decision in April by the Baker administration that more logistical work is needed before a crucial state permit — known as a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act certificate — could be issued for the project.

Among the biggest pieces of unfinished business: getting representatives for Walsh and Wynn to agree on a traffic plan for Charlestown.

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Boston officials say most of the traffic to the casino would travel through the already congested Boston neighborhood, and the state Department of Transportation needs more information from Wynn to show that Boston’s concerns about that corridor are being addressed.

A Wynn spokesman declined to comment about Monday’s meeting, other than to characterize it as “helpful and productive.”

Both the ongoing lawsuit and the Walsh administration’s failure to appear Monday raise more questions about when state Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton will issue a final environmental permit, necessary for construction to begin.

When he delayed the final permitting in April, Beaton raised two other issues of concern.

He wanted a firm commitment from Wynn for subsidies to help the MBTA’s Orange Line, and he said an improper transfer of land next to the casino site must be addressed.

Wynn agreed to put that land — property needed so the casino’s main entrance could be built entirely outside of the city of Boston — in escrow until this state environmental review is over.

Boston’s battle with Wynn is playing out just as gaming commission member James McHugh feared it would.

At the time the commission approved Wynn’s casino in September, McHugh acknowledged that the Wynn project could provide a bigger economic boost to the region than a rival proposal from Mohegan Sun for Suffolk Downs in Revere. But McHugh said he was voting for the Mohegan proposal because it had more support in neighboring communities than Wynn’s project, warning that the opposition to Wynn could make it harder to get the project built.

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McHugh was outvoted 3 to 1, and Wynn became the official designee for the state’s Boston-area resort casino license.

The gaming commission now faces three lawsuits related to that vote: the suit from Boston, as well as ones filed by Somerville and Revere.

All three claim the gaming commission improperly gave Wynn an unfair advantage as it weighed the Wynn and Mohegan proposals.

Among the accusations: The commission failed to properly consider Wynn’s inability to reach a mitigation agreement with Walsh, or the allegations of criminal activity tied to the Wynn casino property’s previous ownership.

Mayor Dan Rizzo of Revere continued the criticism on Monday, issuing a brief statement that expressed displeasure that Revere was not included in the transportation agency’s new working group.

“I am concerned that it appears, based on Secretary Beaton’s comments, that state agencies are trying to broker a deal between a municipality, the City of Boston, and a private developer, Wynn, when it is apparent the public interest has been so egregiously violated by this process,” Rizzo said.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow
him on Twitter @jonchesto.