Mashpee Wampanoag poses $500 million question
MASHPEE — Sharon Kennedy had one question for the official from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, and it was one he could not answer.
"How long does the land have to be into trust before we start the project?" the tribe member asked.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is holding one more public hearing on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's draft environmental impact statement:
- 5:30 p.m. today at Taunton High School
- A public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement continues through Jan. 17.
Written comments can be sent to Franklin Keel, regional director of the Eastern Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 545 Marriott Drive, Suite 700, Nashville, TN 32714.
Copies of the report are available at Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Headquarters, Mashpee Public Library and Taunton Public Library. The report is also available online at mwteis.com.
The project Kennedy was referring to is the tribe's proposal to build a $500 million casino in Taunton, but Chet McGhee, the BIA official overseeing a public hearing Monday night at Mashpee High School, said he doesn't know the answer.
Of course, that's been the $500 million question all along. The tribe's proposal to have 170 acres in
Mashpee and 155 acres in Taunton taken into federal trust for its initial reservation has been time-consuming and complicated. It's been 22 months since the project was first announced and 17 months since the first hearings were held on the potential environmental impact of the tribe's plans.
Tribe members have endured starts and stops in Middleboro and Fall River since 2007, including an initial environmental review in Middleboro. But none has gotten as far as where the tribe stands now.
In his opening remarks, Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell thanked tribe members for their patience.
"This is a monumental step in the process. The (environmental review) is the most time-consuming aspect of land into trust. To be at the final hearing stage is very exciting," Cromwell said after Monday's brief hearing. "It's a huge step in the right direction."
Monday's meeting and a public hearing scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at Taunton High School are more steps in the process with no predictable finish line. Comments from the two meetings will be incorporated into a final environmental review that will outline mitigation required of the tribe to ease traffic and other concerns.
About 50 people, most of them tribe members or tribe consultants, attended the public hearing to provide feedback on the land application's Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
In Mashpee, the impact is minimal because the proposed use of the land is essentially the current use — government offices, housing and a museum, said David Hewett of Epsilon Associates, the tribe's environmental consultant. The biggest impact in Mashpee is that once the land is in federal trust, the tribe will no longer pay the $17,000 per year in town property taxes, he said. The tribe will also take over some criminal and civil jurisdiction on the reservation land, Hewett said.
The bulk of Monday's one-hour hearing was Hewett's overview of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is hundreds of pages, most having to do with the Taunton land.
Comments made at the public hearings or in writing will be incorporated into the Final Environmental Impact Statement, Hewett said.
"We look forward to addressing any and all concerns," Cromwell said during the hearing.
After the meeting, Cromwell said he knows there will be many more questions and comments tonight at Taunton High.
"I don't think there's anything out of the norm that we haven't seen or heard," he said.