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Wynn casino wins key recommendation from state environmental official

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Steve Wynn stood in front of a model of his planned Everett casino in March.
Steve Wynn stood in front of a model of his planned Everett casino in March.

The Wynn Resorts casino secured a key victory Friday, as a state environmental official recommended that the $2.1 billion project on the banks of the Mystic River clear its final regulatory hurdle, a permit that had been challenged by the City of Somerville.

The final decision on the permit lies with DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg, who is expected to make a ruling in the coming weeks. But the recommendation Friday represents a major step forward for the stalled project, because Somerville's objection is the last significant hurdle remaining to the casino, which received a state license two years ago.

Jane Rothchild, a hearing officer for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, said that the casino should receive a waterfront development permit if it complies with certain conditions, such as adding ferry service, a fishing pier, and a kayak and canoe launch near the casino.

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"One does not need to be a casino enthusiast to recognize and acknowledge the benefit that accrues to a city when a long-dormant contaminated waste site is cleaned up and brought back to useful life," Rothchild wrote, noting the casino would be built on 33 acres in Everett that have been contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other pollutants for decades.

Wynn Resorts halted construction of the casino four months ago after Somerville's mayor, Joseph Curtatone, an outspoken critic of the project, appealed the waterfront permit, which the DEP had approved in January.

Somerville's appeal sparked a sharp exchange of words between Wynn officials and Curtatone, who contended that Wynn Resorts should do more to offset the casino's environmental impacts, particularly traffic. Somerville and Everett are on opposite sides of the Mystic River.

Curtatone Friday said he is still considering whether to appeal in Superior Court if the DEP grants Wynn the permit, but Wynn officials have said an appeal would not stop them from proceeding with full-scale construction.

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Wynn Resorts, which says the casino will create 4,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent positions, has sought a quick resolution of the dispute so it can remain on schedule for an opening in early 2019.

In a statement, Wynn Resorts said it is "looking forward to the commissioner's final sign-off and commencing full construction of our project."

The company said it had previously offered to adopt the modifications Rothchild recommended and said it was "clearly happy to proceed with this change."

In a 50-page decision, Rothchild recommended that the amount of open space surrounding the casino-and-hotel complex be increased by about two acres, to 6.5 acres. She also ruled that the term of the DEP permit be shortened from 85 years to 50 years.

Adding waterfront amenities, she said, would "complement the multipurpose dock at the casino site and provide additional activation of the Mystic River waterfront and the greater access to the watershed for smaller crafts."

The law governing waterfront development "specifically identifies revitalization of unproductive property along urban waterfronts" as a public benefit, she wrote. Cleanup efforts at the site — a contaminated property once home to a Monsanto chemical plant — are estimated to cost $30 million.

Curtatone, in a statement, said it was encouraging that Rothchild "made clear that Somerville did have standing to bring its appeal and that she saw the validity and importance of our arguments, in particular around the unusual length of the license as well as the need to make the ferry a condition of the license."

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"As for the other concerns raised in our appeal that are not recommended to be addressed, we will await the commissioner's final word," he said.

The DEP approved the permit in January, but after Somerville appealed, held a hearing last month on the issue. Half a dozen witnesses testified before Rothchild, and lawyers for both sides later submitted briefs.


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