Monday, April 30, 2012

Wampa World Water – Can Taunton fill the need?

Unlike other proposed casino complexes in Massachusetts, the recently unveiled plans for Taunton present a significantly different environmental impact profile.  Mashpee Wampanoag council chair Cedric "Pay no Taxes" Cromwell promises a massive indoor and outdoor water park along side of his planned casino resort complex with three hotels (nearly 1,000 rooms) multiple  restaurants, bars, a “New Hampshire style” liquor store and shopping mall.    

The Wampanoag claim they have an environmental impact study underway; however, residents are being asked to vote on the casino issue and the town is negotiating a compact before that study will be made available and the potential cost burdens this Indian reservation casino resort complex will have on the area's infrastructure and environment.  The impact of this resort casino, hotels, restaurants and water park on local water use and treatment alone will be huge for Bristol County.

According to the latest state government report, Southeastern Massachusetts is under “severe drought” conditions.  Bristol County residents have been under water use restrictions each summer for several years now.   How will Cathal O’Brian and Taunton Water address this new demand?   What will the burden be on infrastructure for treating the casino’s waste water?  How will this new draw impact neighboring communities who share our water sources needs?  

While any potential agreement between the City of Taunton and the Mashpee Wampanoag must fully account for water use and treatment costs, other factors also need to be included: the neighboring communities’ costs, risks to local firefighting capacity, environmental impacts and additional water restriction burdens on the people in the region should be equally addressed.

According to industry standards, hotels typically use between 36,000 and 73,000 gallons of water per room/year.  So, Cedric’s three hotels alone could draw down 66 million gallons of Taunton-area water.   Hotel & Leisure Advisors reports that a typical indoor only (Cedric promises and indoor and outdoor water park) park requires 50 million gallons to fill, then uses between 125,000 and 160,000 gallons per day (that’s 46 to 58 million gallons per year).   Using standard calculations for casino, restaurant, bar and shopping space water usage the proposed Wampanoag gaming complex, bars and restaurants would conservatively use another 200,000 gallons of water per day or 74 million gallons per year.

The combined annual water draw down from the area’s water supplies and corresponding waste water output from the Taunton Wampanoag casino resort complex would be in excess of 250 million gallons per year.   To put that into context, the average single family household of four uses 60, 000 gallons per year – thus the casino will have the water impact of adding another 4,000 single family homes.

The City of Taunton, Massachusetts draws its drinking water from six reservoirs: Assowampsett; Elders; Long; Poksha; Great Quittacas; and Little Quittacas.  Taunton shares this water with Lakeville, Middleborough, Freetown and Rochester.  The Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs report on Sustainable Water Initiatives, published in February 2012, details the water challenges for the state and for Taunton.  This report, coupled with the current "severe drought" status of the region, spells out real challenges for Bristol County with the proposed Indian casino resort complex.

To ensure regional, not just Taunton residents, aren’t unfairly penalized for the infrastructure costs and new water demands that will stretch the region’s already limited capacity the City should review and revise their commercial water rate schedule for this project, as even a high commercial rate of $10 per 1,000 gallons will not likely cover the resulting costs.  Other commercial rate payers also pay state and local taxes which are used to support area infrastructure – the Indian reservation casino complex will pay no such taxes and their utility rates should reflect that disparity.

Finally, what assurances will Taunton have that the Wampanoag casino will be able to pay increasing water and other utility costs when other established Indian casinos in our region are now in massive debt and tribe members are seeking assistance to pay their utility bills?  Does anyone really think an Indian casino in Massachusetts will be any different.

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