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Wynn casino clears hurdle with environmental permit

 A model of the planned Wynn casino was presented during a press conference in March.
A model of the planned Wynn casino was presented during a press conference in March.(JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2016)

The Wynn Resorts casino planned for Everett cleared a major hurdle Friday as a state environmental official approved a waterfront permit for the $2.1 billion project along the Mystic River, denying a challenge by the City of Somerville and paving the way for construction to begin.

The permit represented the last substantial regulatory barrier for the luxury resort, billed as the largest private single-phase development in Massachusetts history. Somerville officials can appeal the decision, issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, but Wynn Resorts said it will begin construction in short order.

Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Boston Harbor, the name of the 24-story hotel and casino complex, said work crews were being “readied and mobilized.”

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“Once we have the license in hand, construction of Wynn Boston Harbor and the eventual hiring of 4,000 union workers will commence immediately,” he said.

Wynn Resorts postponed its groundbreaking in February after Somerville filed its appeal, which sparked an unusually public war of words between the company and Somerville’s mayor, Joseph Curtatone, an outspoken opponent of the casino.

Curtatone contended that the casino, just across the Mystic River from Somerville, would have an adverse impact on the environment, while casino supporters said his opposition was a calculated attempt to further his political ambitions.

On Friday, Curtatone said through a spokeswoman that city officials would review the DEP decision before deciding whether to appeal it in Superior Court.

The city can also ask the DEP to reconsider its ruling, which placed some conditions on the casino while allowing it to move forward.

“My review of the record concludes that the project . . . serves a proper public purpose and provides greater benefit than detriment to the rights of the public in the tidelands,” Martin Suuberg, DEP commissioner, wrote in his decision, which came a week after a DEP hearing officer recommended that the permit be issued.

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One of the casino’s earliest proponents, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, said he “could not be more thrilled about today’s news.”

“We can now go full steam ahead with the Wynn casino project,” he said. “This change will hugely add to the quality of life for our residents, our neighbors, and the tourists that will soon be visiting our city.”

After Somerville filed its appeal, DeMaria denounced Curtatone’s opposition as an example of “politics at its worst,” and urged casino supporters to barrage Curtatone with phone calls and e-mails urging him to drop the appeal.

On Friday, Curtatone held out the prospect of an appeal to Superior Court but described the ruling as “a success for us in several ways.” He cited the permit’s requirement of ferry service to the casino, saying it would “help reduce road traffic and resulting particulate pollution in our neighborhoods.”

“This particular appeal was never about stopping the casino but rather about exercising the city’s statutory rights of appeal to ensure our city’s environmental, health, and waterways concerns were addressed,” Curtatone said in a statement.

The DEP also called on Wynn Resorts to create more open space at the 33-acre property and reduced the term of the permit from 85 years to 50 years.

Suuberg adopted all the conditions the hearing officer had recommended except one: a fishing pier and kayak and canoe launch along the Mystic River. Suuberg stripped the permit of that requirement.

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Last summer, the casino secured a separate environmental permit that followed more than two years of analyzing traffic and other impacts. As part of the development, Wynn Resorts plans to provide public access to the waterfront along landscaped paths and parks.

Full-scale casinos are also under construction in Taunton and Springfield. The state’s first casino, a slot parlor called Plainridge Park, opened about a year ago in Plainville.

Wynn Resorts has sought to resolve the dispute quickly so it can remain on schedule to open in early 2019. Cleanup efforts at the site — a contaminated property once home to a Monsanto chemical plant — are estimated to cost $30 million.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh waged a lengthy, and at times acrimonious, campaign to block the casino. But in January, Walsh and Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn struck a deal in which Boston agreed to drop its suits against the casino in exchange for an extra $6 million.


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