Aquinnah Wampanoags offer competing vision for Fall River casino

By Michael Holtzman

Herald News Staff Reporter

Posted May 23, 2010 @ 08:55 PM

Last update May 24, 2010 @ 11:13 AM

 

FALL RIVER —

Another casino option is being dealt into the mix.

At tonight’s City Council subcommittee meeting, one week after the Mashpee Wampanoags joined Mayor Will Flanagan to announce their proposed agreement for a $500 million casino resort, the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe plans to present what it’s touting as a better plan.

A key issue is the city’s consideration to supplant the 300-acre SouthCoast Bio Park with a casino for the Mashpee tribe’s resort if state and local hurdles can be cleared.

The Flanagan administration has proposed using alternative locations in Greater Fall River for BioPark uses already funded and being developed in concert with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“Aquinnah Wampanoag states to Fall River, ‘You can have both!’” wrote the tribe’s public relations firm, tribe, Brandon Associates in Boston.

They emphasized the Aquinnah has been a federally recognized tribe in Massachusetts since 1987, has been coordinating plans for a casino resort the past three years, and claims control of 250 acres of land in Fall River.

“In contrast to the current plan of building a casino resort in an area of Fall River initially designated for a biotechnology park, the plans by the Aquinnah Wampanoag do not force a choice between the biotech park and gaming,” Brandon Associates wrote.

City councilors received that letter last week as the council's Committee on Economic Development & Tourism, chaired by Brian Bigelow, was setting tonight’s agenda.

The session is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Government Center council chambers. The other two committee members are council Vice President Linda Pereira and Councilor Raymond Mitchell.

An hour earlier, the Ordinance & Legislation Committee chaired by Pereira will discuss several items, including continued debate on her proposed residency requirement.

The regular council meeting will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m., preceded by the Finance Committee at 5:30.

A month ago, the full council referred a letter of inquiry sent by the Aquinnah Wampanoags to the subcommittee shortly after state legislation in the House to legalize casino gambling passed that chamber. The Senate plans to take it up next month.

Pereira and Councilor Brad Kilby issued an April 20 resolution asking the council and administration meet with representatives of the Aquinnah “to discuss the establishment of expanded gaming.”

That was weeks before Flanagan’s announcement with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

“It should be a pretty interesting meeting,” said Kilby, who’s not a member of the council subcommittee but plans to attend.

Flanagan and the tribe project 3,000 to 5,000 permanent jobs would be created by the Mashpee Wampanoag casino resort, along with 1,000 additional jobs during construction.

Kilby, Pereira, council President Joseph Camara and Councilor Leo Pelletier filed a nonbinding resolution this month opposing use of the planned biopark for a casino gambling resort. The other five councilors did not sign on.

“I just don’t think it’s right to pull out of the biopark,” Kilby said. He referred to the plan that includes $17 million in committed state funding to help build a UMass Dartmouth biomanufacturing facility and improve infrastructure to connect with a related government project, a new Route 24 interchange.

“When they (Aquinnah Wampanoag) sent the letter last month, we put the resolution together,” Kilby said. Of the recent press release he read the past few days, he said, “They didn’t give Linda and I a letter like this.”

Kilby said Pereira planned to meet over the weekend with Aquinnah officials.

Their representatives at Brandon Associates said they’d present a plan, declining to be more specific.

Their press release said the tribe also would show ways they’d support biotechnology expansion in Fall River.

After talks with the tribe, the council subcommittee has a related discussion scheduled with representatives of the Redevelopment Authority, Fall River Office of Economic Development and Bristol Workforce Investment Board to address the city’s 18 percent unemployment rate and what jobs are being created.

The issue was referred by the full council two months ago to ask those leaders “what steps are being taken” to train workers in emerging fields like biotechnology and green jobs.

The Redevelopment Authority, chaired by William Kenney, continues an important meeting Wednesday night at 4:30 p.m. in the Government Center first-floor hearing room. The group will address Flanagan’s request that it sell the 300-acre BioPark to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

E-mail Michael Holtzman at mholtzman@heraldnews.com.