The state should delay its consideration of a crucial environmental permit needed for the construction of a $1.7 billion casino in Everett until an independent traffic study is completed, state Attorney General Maura Healey said Monday.
Healey said that the traffic study now under consideration by Massachusetts Department of Transportation regulators was conducted by consultants working for Wynn Resorts. Last year, Wynn won a state license to develop a casino, but still lacks permits necessary to break ground and build what is planned to be the 24-floor, curved glass tower.
The Wynn casino, planned for a long-vacant 33-acre parcel on the Everett waterfront, is expected to generate 4,000 permanent jobs, 4,000 union construction jobs, and tens of millions of dollars in new revenue for the state.
But it would be built less than a mile from Charlestown’s Sullivan Square, a long-overmatched crossroads of several major roadways in the shadow of a hulking, elevated section of Interstate 93, from which still more traffic pours into the oft-congested square.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Healey said she had “significant concerns” about relying on a study of the casino’s expected impact on traffic that was conducted by Wynn’s own hired consultants.
“For this project, that approach is insufficient,” Healey wrote. “We believe it is critical that MassDOT and the Commonwealth benefit from an independent analysis of the traffic impact, paid for by Wynn, before considering” any plans to mitigate traffic impacts.
Healey has no legal authority to mandate such a study, or to insist on a delay in the review process. Instead, she appealed in her letter to Pollack that she and Pollack share a “responsibility to protect the public.”
As a candidate for attorney general last year Healey, who lives in Charlestown, expressed opposition to casinos and supported a referendum question to repeal the state casino law. (Voters statewide backed the casino law by an overwhelming margin.) As attorney general, Healey has vowed to apply strict oversight to casino development.
Healey’s letter makes her an ally, at least on this issue, of Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston. Under an aggressive legal strategy led by Walsh, the City of Boston has filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the license awarded to Wynn by the state Gaming Commission.
The lawsuit asserts that the state gambling panel made a major mistake in denying the residents of Charlestown the right to vote on whether to accept the casino because it’s the neighborhood that would be most affected by increased traffic.
Walsh, through a spokeswoman, said he appreciated Healey’s efforts “on behalf of the people of Boston.”
Others said they cheered.
“I’m heartened by this,” said Lynne Levesque, a Charlestown resident and casino opponent. “Anything that provides us with unbiased information on the casino is a step in the right direction.”
Wynn responded to Healey’s letter on Monday with a prepared statement expressing frustration at such suggestions at this point in the process.
“For 19 months we have diligently followed the detailed and robust” environmental permitting process, the Wynn statement said. “After extensive studies and analysis reviewed by numerous state agencies — as well as draft, final, supplementary and secondary supplementary reports — we believe we are prepared to move forward.”
Wynn has proposed $10.9 million worth of upgrades to Sullivan Square such as new traffic signals, widened roads, reconstructed sidewalks, a reconfigured entrance from Cambridge Street, and a new bus-only lane.
Pollack, in a prepared statement, did not address what her agency will do, if anything, as a result of Healey’s letter, and instead noted that the state will “welcome commentary from all potentially affected parties, especially from community members to ensure issues like traffic mitigation are appropriately addressed.”
Healey in her two-page letter also addressed concerns about the traffic in Somerville and other communities served by Interstate 93.
“Those impacts threaten the local economies, redevelopment plans and air quality,” Healey wrote.
She recommended that MassDOT treat the Everett casino as it does its largest transportation projects.
“The magnitude of the casino’s impact in this very densely populated urban area and on the vital transportation networks that serve it and the region make it akin to the types of projects for which MassDOT would routinely” require the most extensive study, Healey wrote.
“Once the casino is constructed and local roads modified, they are unlikely to be meaningfully altered if traffic and other transportation problems worsen,” she wrote.
The Wynn casino is considered the crown jewel of the state’s strategy, encapsulated in its 2011 casino law, to recapture some of the hundreds of millions of dollars left in Connecticut casinos every year by Massachusetts residents.
The Everett casino is projected to be so successful in a well-off, tightly packed metropolitan area that it could produce more than $200 million a year in revenue for the state while instantly becoming one of the state’s largest private employers.
The Massachusetts law called for the licensing of three resort casinos, each taxed at a rate of 25 percent, as well as a smaller slots parlor, which opened June 24 at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.
The Gaming Commission awarded Wynn one of the licenses after intense competition with a partnership between the owners of Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun.
MGM Resorts received the second license, for an $800 million facility in Springfield.
The Gaming Commission is still considering licensing a third resort casino in either Brockton or New Bedford.