Metro

Wynn halts cleanup of casino site over Somerville appeal

An empty podium was seen at the site of the Wynn Casino where environmental work will be halted.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

An empty podium was seen at the site of the Wynn Casino where environmental work will be halted.

EVERETT — Wynn Resorts announced Tuesday that it will halt environmental cleanup work at the site of its planned casino because of continued objections to a state environmental permit by officials in nearby Somerville.

Wynn Resorts has spent months removing arsenic, lead, and other pollutants from a portion of the 33-acre Everett property in preparation for building a $1.7 billion casino-and-hotel complex along the Mystic River.

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But at an afternoon news conference at the site, Wynn executives said work will be suspended while state environmental officials review Somerville’s appeal of a waterfront development permit for the project, a process that is expected to take at least six months.

Wynn Resorts will stop cleanup efforts, which are estimated to cost $30 million, out of concern they might violate environmental laws as work moves toward construction of a bulkhead and docks for river dredging.

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“If there was a legal way to continue with our site remediation, we would have done it,” said Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Everett. “No one wants this site cleaned up faster than we do.”

DeSalvio said the casino company will “resume work as fast as we can.”

“I don’t want anyone to think for one second that we are going away,” he said.

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The news conference, the second in two weeks to announce delays to the project, seemed designed to put pressure on Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, the last major holdout against the casino.

But in a sharply worded response, Curtatone’s office left little doubt the mayor plans to continue his legal fight.

“We have a city to run, and we’re not going to let the antics of Wynn’s giant PR machine distract us every time they choose to issue another statement rather than get to work addressing our very real, serious, and legally grounded concerns,” spokeswoman Denise Taylor said.

Curtatone, an unwavering opponent of the casino, says more needs to be done to address the health and environmental impact of the projected 18,000 automobiles that will come to the casino each day.

In February, Somerville appealed a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection to grant Wynn the waterfront development permit. State environmental officials have scheduled a hearing on the appeal for Thursday.

Joining Wynn executives at the news conference were several environmental leaders, including George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts; Julie Wormser, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association; and EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association.

Bachrach called upon Curtatone to drop the appeal, which was filed last month.

“We are agnostic on gambling, but what we do support is the cleanup of contaminated sites and the reclamation of polluted rivers,” he said.

Bachrach said that while Somerville has the right to appeal, its challenge “has no merit.”

Khalsa said he supported Wynn’s efforts to transform the long-polluted site into new parks and a public harborwalk.

“This project will deliver a significant public benefit,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Wynn executives announced they were delaying the start of construction indefinitely because of Somerville’s appeal. They also said they were curtailing job fairs and instituting a hiring freeze.

The delay will affect thousands of construction workers slated to work on the project and thousands more expected to be hired when the casino opens, now expected to be no earlier than late 2018, Wynn representatives said.

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