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(NECN: Peter Howe, Revere, Mass.) - With the Robert Kraft-Steve Wynn casino proposal in Foxborough dead and a Milford casino showing no momentum, plans to turn the Suffolk Downs horse track on the Revere-East Boston line into a $1b casino have for months seemed to have a lock on winning the Eastern Massachusetts casino license.
Helping Suffolk Downs appear even more inevitable: Powerful backing from powerful officials like Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Mass. House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
But Wednesday, Menino’s support appeared to be in some doubt, as the mayor lashed out at plans being floated by key Suffolk project official Gary Loveman of Caesars Entertainment to build the project in phases.
"It’s about economic development. It's about having a casino in the city of Boston that is a 'Wow!' and not just a renovation of a grandstand that was there previously," Menino said in a brief interview before dedicating a public art installation in Roxbury. "I want to see a thorough plan of what's going to happen at Suffolk Downs, how it's all going to be built out over the next year or two. You know, I don’t want, 'We're going to do the slots today, and we'll wait to see how that works out and then we'll do the rest.' That isn't what is signed onto. I signed on to a resort casino in the city of Boston."
Suffolk has proposed to build a $1 billion project including a hotel and 30 restaurants, with expanded and upgraded horse racing a key amenity at the site.
Suffolk chief operating officer Chip Tuttle said he takes the mayor's concerns "very seriously," saying in a statement e-mailed from an aide, "We look forward to responding in a substantive way that reflects our long-standing commitment to create a world class destination resort befitting the tourism hub of the region, creating thousands of jobs for local residents and significant opportunities for local businesses."
Even as Suffolk’s gotten into trouble with Menino, it’s just gotten out of trouble with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over horse-waste pollution seeping from Suffolk stables into the Sales Creek, a tucked-away tributary of Boston Harbor that passes alongside the area where Suffolk houses its thoroughbreds. Wednesday, the EPA announced Suffolk was agreeing to a $1.25 million Clean Water Act civil penalty.
Suffolk officials said months before the penalty was announced, they’d already finished more than $3.5 million worth of construction work to stop horse waste pollution from flowing into Sales Creek and the harbor. Suffolk also agreed to make changes to address a charge by the EPA it was running a "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation" – when horses are stabled on site from March to November – in violation of Clean Water Act rules. Suffolk is also agreeing to pay for watershed testing by the Mystic River Watershed Association and Saugus River Watershed Council, something officials said they’re confident will show that horse-racing operations have been, at most, a minor source of overall pollution to the area’s waters.
With videographer David Jacobs.