Martha’s Vineyard Casino Site to Get Safety Improvements as Legal Battle Continues

Posted on: September 2, 2019, 06:26h. 

Last updated on: September 2, 2019, 01:22h.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head this week will start securing the construction site for a future bingo hall on Martha’s Vineyard after reaching an agreement with the town of Aquinnah.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), has wanted safety improvements on a Martha’s Vineyard site where the tribe did preliminary foundation work for a future bingo hall. The safety improvements recently were approved in an agreement with the town. (Image: Stacey Rupolo/The Martha’s Vineyard Times)

The Martha’s Vineyard Times reported the two sides recently agreed to a “joint stipulation” on safety and security improvements for the site located in a remote section of the Massachusetts island. Limited work could start as soon as Tuesday and should be finished in about two weeks.

The agreement allows the tribe to place coverings on exposed rebars, place barriers or coverings over trenches, and reinforce or build new fences to prevent anyone from entering the property, Boston US District Court Judge Dennis Saylor IV ruled last month, according to the Times.

The tribe will proceed with its proposed limited plan to render the site safe and preserve work done to date …,” the agreement between the town and the Wampanoags says, the newspaper reported. “Under the plan, the tribe is being allowed to pour concrete and backfill trenches ‘such that rebar steel is not exposed in a manner that risks serious injury or impalement.’”

The agreement follows a ruling from the judge for the site to get secured, the report said. In July, the judge stopped additional construction on the property.

Tribe Concerned over Site Safety

The tribe has wanted to secure the site out of safety concerns.  A related legal dispute is under appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Earlier in the summer, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the Wampanoag chairwoman, said that “since the court’s decision in June, the tribe has been attempting to safely secure the construction site. We are happy that despite the town’s insistence to the contrary, the court understood that the site was dangerously unsafe if left as it is, and granted our request to move forward,” the Times reported.

As part of the agreement, tribal officials will allow a town building inspector and engineer on the property within an hour if requested, the Times said. The tribe also said work to secure the site “may have to be undone” if it loses the federal appeal, the Times adds.

When the tribe is authorized to move forward on construction, the bingo hall will be supported by an 11,000-square-foot concrete slab for the venue’s foundation. Plans call for an approximate 10,000-square-foot gambling venue that will feature 250 electronic games.

In his ruling, Saylor said the construction project is subject to local permitting. But he adds the tribe has authority to build the gaming hall on its property.

The tribe’s attorneys filed an appeal with the First Circuit Court of Appeals challenging much of Saylor’s ruling. For now, US District Court Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley was named by Saylor to be a mediator if further disagreements arise between the town and the tribe.

The land was cleared in February for the venue. Electricity to the site was cut in March because the town had not inspected the site. However, at that time, the tribe said it wanted to use its own inspector.

Town Issued Cease and Desist Order

In July, a local building inspector, Leonard Jason Jr., was allowed by the tribe to visit the construction site. Based on what he saw, Jason issued a cease and desist order — which required the Wampanoags to stop all construction and not resume any building until getting needed approvals.

“I personally observed the construction of footings and foundation walls, and observed the presence of rebar,” Jason said in the order, quoted by The Vineyard Gazette. “The … activities require a building permit from the town, which has not been sought or issued.”

In a federal court filing,  a tribal attorney said the tribe needs gaming revenue “to provide essential governmental services to its members.”

The tribe estimates it will receive between $3 million and $5 million a year from gaming revenue. “Every day of delay is a delay in funding essential health services, education, housing, social services, cultural protection, police and fire protection, EMT services … and a multitude of other government services,” attorneys for the tribe claimed in a court document.

The tribe’s attorneys contend the project does not require local permits but instead needs to comply with requirements found in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Lawyers representing Aquinnah have told Saylor the tribe needs to apply for a permit from local officials. Issuance would be contingent upon the plans complying with local zoning and building regulations.

The project has already been discussed by members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) — a regional planning board. But because the application was incomplete, the MVC earlier this summer voted unanimously to deny the gaming hall project. It can still be resubmitted with more details.