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Wynn casino on hold — indefinitely

Robert DeSalvio looked over his notes before making the announcement.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/Globe Staff

EVERETT — Wynn Resorts, poised to begin construction on a $1.7 billion casino this spring, said Wednesday that it will postpone groundbreaking indefinitely because of continued objections to a key environmental permit by officials in Somerville, just across the Mystic River from the massive project.

The delay, announced at a press conference featuring dozens of labor groups and two mayors who support the casino, ratchets up the pressure on Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, who has emerged as the last major holdout against the Wynn casino, and escalates a simmering, high-stakes feud.

Standing at the site of the planned casino in Everett, Wynn officials emphasized the cost of the delay — to the casino and to those who would work there — and warned the start of construction could be delayed at least six months. But they portrayed the project as a done deal.

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“Unfortunately, construction is effectively on hold because of the appeal” of the environmental permit, said Robert DeSalvio, Wynn’s top executive on the project. “But I want to be clear: We are not going anywhere. We will build this project.”

In a hastily scheduled press conference just hours after Wynn’s, Curtatone struck a defiant tone, vowing to fight the casino for as long as it takes.

“I’m not backing down,” he said.

Curtatone scoffed at the idea that Wynn Resorts would be surprised by his appeal of the environmental permit last week. He described his challenge as standard procedure for such a large project.

“Any developer knows there are appeals,” he said. “It’s a necessary part of the checks and balances of our legal system.”

When Boston officials struck a deal with Wynn Resorts last month, the casino’s long and bumpy road to approval finally seemed clear. But on Feb. 11, Curtatone, an unwavering opponent of the casino, appealed a little-noticed decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection to grant Wynn a permit for a waterfront development.

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Curtatone said he challenged the permit, despite insistent appeals from Wynn, to force Wynn Resorts to offset the environmental impact of an estimated 18,000 automobiles that will come to the casino each day.

Curtatone said that he expects Wynn’s “armada of lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants” to attack him personally, but that it was “nothing I can’t handle.”

“No amount of public theater and political harassment will stop me,” he said, referring to Wynn’s news conference.

Curtatone said the Wynn team acts as if it “is above the rules,” and suggested that the company has come to expect deferential treatment “because it’s been so easy for them to get what they want in Massachusetts.”

In Everett, Wynn’s DeSalvio said there is no telling how long it will take for state regulators to hear and decide the appeal, but estimated it could be more than six months.

That setback will affect thousands of construction workers slated to work on the development and thousands more expected to be hired when the casino-and-hotel complex opens, now expected to be no earlier than late 2018, DeSalvio said.

In a move clearly intended to pressure Curtatone, DeSalvio gathered dozens of labor representatives, two mayors, and a handful of local casino supporters at a tent on the site of the planned casino. Remarks drew loud applause and cheers, and a large media contingent was on hand.

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Everett’s mayor, Carlo DeMaria, made a plea to Curtatone, calling his opposition “politics at its worst.”

“Joe, it’s time to forget the appeal,” DeMaria said to cheers. “For one person to stand in the way, and to delay thousands of jobs for nine months or a year, and he won’t even get what he’s after in the end.”

DeMaria, a strong supporter of the casino, urged those in attendance to barrage Curtatone with phone calls and e-mails urging him to drop the appeal.

Mayor Gary Christenson of Malden said a Wynn casino “presents a big opportunity” to provide well-paying jobs for working people.

“Wynn is not some fly-by-night operation,” he said.

Henry Green, of the hotel workers union, said “we need these good-paying jobs.”

“We embrace and celebrate Wynn coming here,” he said.

John Fish, chief executive of Suffolk Construction, which has a contract to build the casino, expressed fear that more delay could give the Boston area a reputation as unfriendly to business.

“This will attract people nationally and internationally,” he said of the planned casino. “This is a chance to showcase” the area.

Wynn representatives said they can not begin laying a foundation on the long-dormant site until the appeal has run its course. As a result, the company will curtail job fairs and institute a hiring freeze. The company has estimated the casino will employ 4,000 construction workers and a permanent staff of 4,000.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.

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