Stalled Martha’s Vineyard Casino Faces More Possible Delays as Planning Agency, Federal Judge Review Project

Posted on: May 19, 2019, 08:56h. 

Last updated on: May 19, 2019, 08:56h.

A controversial planned tribal gaming hall on Martha’s Vineyard will be scrutinized further during three upcoming meetings by a Massachusetts regional planning agency.

Land was cleared starting in February for a planned tribal casino on Martha’s Vineyard. Now, a regional commission and federal judge are reviewing the project. (Image: WCAI/ Nelson Sigelman)

Staff from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) are scheduled to meet with representatives of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Wednesday. That will be followed by two public meetings.

The commission’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) is scheduled to review the gaming venue on June 3. Then, on June 6 there will be a public hearing held by the full MVC.

Officials from two towns on the upscale island — Aquinnah and Chilmark — asked the MVC to review the gaming hall plans. It was classified by the town governments as “a development of regional impact” (DRI).

That requires the commission to review the project and assess its impact on the communities. Commissioners could impose additional requirements, perhaps on traffic, environmental, energy and aesthetic concerns.

Earlier this month, MVC Executive Director Adam Turner wrote to tribal Chairwoman Cheryl Andrew-Maltais about the review process.

Tribe Not Responding to MVC

As of Thursday, the tribe had not responded, with MVC Chairman Douglas Sederholm saying last week, “They’re ignoring us.” The tribe is apparently questioning the authority of the MVC’s review, since the project was given the go-ahead from federal courts.

Turner hopes tribal officials will participate in the regional review process. Tribal representatives and members of the public can testify during the hearing or submit documents to the commission.

“I don’t relish this,” Turner was quoted by the Martha’s Vineyard Times. “We simply addressed the impact of the proposed development.”

We have our own responsibilities and I still hope that we can come to some accommodation with the tribe. I totally respect what they’re trying to do up there.”

Beyond the MVC review, the town of Aquinnah and the tribe are likely to have their attorneys present for a Boston federal court hearing on May 31.

It is expected that U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV will hear arguments on the conflicting role of local zoning laws versus laws under the federal Indian Gaming Rights Act (IGRA).

Starting in February, the tribe cleared four acres where the casino is to be located. It appears construction has not commenced.

No Trespassing Signs Posted

As of last week, no trespassing signs were posted at the parcel, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette.

Screens were attached to a fence between the building site and State Road. That is a key thoroughfare which connects Aquinnah to Chilmark.

In March, electricity to the construction site was shut off. It apparently stemmed from workers installing wire service on the property before a legal permit could be issued.

A town inspector could not get access to the property to do the necessary inspection. The tribe may prefer to use its own inspector.

“The tribe has been deprived of electricity to continue construction, which is integral to the tribe being able to offer gaming on its Indian lands,” according to a tribal statement that was quoted by the Gazette earlier this month.

In response, Aquinnah Town Administrator Jeffrey Madison told he has “no idea” if construction on the casino came to a stop.

“The town recognizes/supports the tribe’s right to conduct gaming on its settlement lands. That issue is settled,” Madison said.

“The town’s only concerns involve public safety, environmental impact and anticipated use of municipal services.  There has been absolutely no information from the tribe concerning these matters or any other planned elements of the planned development.”

The casino was previously challenged in federal court, but the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear an appeal. The tribe declared victory.

Plans call for a 10,000-square-foot gambling venue that will feature 250 electronic games. The site will also include food trucks for casino patrons.

The tribe predicts the venue will generate about $4.5 million annually in revenue. It is tentatively being called the Aquinnah Cliffs Casino.

It will be a Class I and II casino under the IGRA. That means traditional slot machines and table games won’t be permitted.

The bingo hall is located on the island’s remote western end. Residents have worried about its impact on the bucolic location.