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Selectmen from four towns form coalition to fight Milford casino plan

Foxwoods chief executive Scott Butera is expected to address concerns about his organiza-tion’s casino proposal when he addresses the Milford Board of Selectmen Monday night.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2013

Selectmen in four area towns have formed a coalition aimed at launching an organized, well-financed fight against plans for a resort casino off Interstate 495 in Milford that they say would undermine the quality of life in their communities.

The MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition is made up of officials from Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, and Medway, according to its chairman, Hopkinton Selectman Brian J. Herr, who said other towns, including Southborough, may join the group.

"We need to respect the residents of Milford who will be considering this proposal," Herr said. "But we also need to help them understand that just because Foxwoods says it's so, it doesn't mean it's so."

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Representatives from Foxwoods Resort Casino, a well-established operation in Mashantucket, Conn., that is leading the Milford proposal, are expected to publicly present detailed plans for the complex slated for a 200-acre site off I-495 and Route 16, and near the town's borders with Holliston and Hopkinton, for the first time Monday. Their meeting with Milford selectmen starts at 7 p.m. in the Milford High School auditorium.

"We have and will continue to work with the communities surrounding Milford as we seek to collaboratively bring a world-class resort to the area that reflects the history and culture of the community," said Scott Butera, Foxwoods president and chief executive, in an e-mail to the Globe.

"Our vision from the start has been to minimize impacts on traffic, water use, and other issues, and our plans are to create a destination that will enhance the region, integrating with Milford and the surrounding area," Butera said. "Our doors are open to the selectmen in Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway, and Ashland so that we may work together and solve any concerns."

Also this week, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has scheduled a forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the senior center in Plainville to discuss plans for a slot machine parlor at the Plainfield Racecourse in that community.

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Holliston's selectmen were the first to formally sign the anticasino coalition agreement last week, and Herr said he expects selectmen in the other three towns to match the board's unanimous support at their next scheduled meetings.

Each town has already committed $25,000 to the coalition toward opposing the $1 billion proposed casino, to be called Foxwoods Massachusetts Resort, according to Holliston Selectman Jay Marsden, vice chairman of the coalition. He said the pooled money already appropriated by Town Meeting in each community provides the group with the ability to counter assertions made by Foxwoods, if necessary.

For example, he said, if Foxwoods provides a study showing there is an ample water supply at the site to support the development, neighboring towns may want to verify the findings with their own study.

But tight town budgets would make paying for such a study difficult, even if there were enough time to call a special town meeting to authorize the expenditure, Marsden said.

"We wanted to be able to deal with that, so having the money available is essential," he said.

Town Meeting voters in Holliston and Hopkinton approved up to $100,000 to oppose the proposal, while Medway approved $40,000, and Ashland set aside $25,000, according to Marsden.

Some of the expenditures could be reimbursed by the state or the developer as part of a mitigation agreement, Marsden noted, but added, "Why not have the money available now in case we need it?"

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will consider the Milford project against competition from Suffolk Downs, which has proposed a casino at the East Boston racetrack with partner Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts, which is pitching a hotel casino resort on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett, for the lone license to be granted in Greater Boston. The commission is expected to award the license early next year.

Many residents in the towns surrounding Milford have been fighting the proposed casino for more than a year, with approximately 100 members of the group Casino-Free Milford holding signs and attending a Milford selectmen's meeting in April where Foxwoods representatives appeared.

At that meeting, the selectmen voiced frustration that they had not yet seen more detailed plans nor received answers to concerns on a number of issues, including traffic, sewage, a shortage of available water, Conservation Commission questions about wetlands and endangered species on the site, Historical Commission worries about ancient artifacts on the land, and any required zoning changes.

Butera is expected to address those concerns when he details plans at Monday night's meeting.

After the meeting, Milford selectmen will have to decide whether to enter into formal negotiations with Foxwoods on a host-community agreement, as part of the state's gambling-license application process. The agreement would need to be approved by the town's voters for the Foxwoods proposal to be considered by the state Gaming Commission.

Whatever Butera has to say, however, opponents say the site is simply the wrong place for a casino.

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"It's very troubling to residents, homeowners, and taxpayers that this kind of gambling resort would be built in the very suburbs where they moved to raise their families," Herr said.

Marsden also questioned the location, saying it is too small for future expansion, and noted that the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., which has plans to expand to full table games this summer, is less than a 30-minute drive from Milford.

In addition, the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen last week sent a letter to the state Gaming Commission questioning the financial stability of the applicant.

"Placing a casino in MetroWest will certainly damage the entire region beyond any level that your proposed mitigation can address," the board's letter to the commission stated.


Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.