On Springfield

The Biomass-Casino Connection

Like a lot of people, I suppose, I was so focused last week on the news out of Boston and then Watertown that I missed some local developments, like this interesting report by Channel 22’s Ryan Walsh. Luckily, a reader sent me a copy.

Walsh took a look at the list of the corporations and people on whom the Mass. Gaming Commission is conducting background checks, as part of its vetting process of the various casino proposals around the state. The list includes employees of the companies as well as investors in those projects—including, Walsh noted, litigants who are suing the city of Springfield at the same time that they are vying for local approval for their casino plan.

David Callahan and Vincent Barletta are behind Palmer Renewable Energy’s controversial plan to build a wood-burning power plant in East Springfield. The City Council initially granted the project a special permit in 2008 but rescinded it in 2011, in response to public opposition to the plant. Palmer Renewable then filed a lawsuit against the city over the revocation.

Callahan and Barletta are also investors in MGM’s proposal to build a casino in the South End. Walsh reports that MGM Springfield told him that the two “have a limited financial investment and were brought onto the project because they owned the land in Brimfield that MGM originally wanted to build on.” Other members of the Callahan family are also on the Gaming Commission’s background-check list.

The juxtaposition of those two projects creates a rather sticky situation, with city leaders deciding whether to give the go-ahead to a casino project whose investors include two men with a pending legal action against the city. Mayor Domenic Sarno is now negotiating host-community agreements with MGM and rival developer Penn National, which wants to build a casino in the North End. Any agreement that emerges from that process will then be voted on by the City Council before going to city voters for approval. Ultimately, the Gaming Commission will decide which proposal will receive the sole casino license to be granted in Western Mass.

Walsh’s report also includes the full list of people being vetted by the Gaming Commission. Alas, casino watchers eager to confirm rampant rumors that various former elected officials and other connected players are working behind the scenes for one proposal or another will be disappointed; the list does not appear to include the names of lobbyists working on behalf of casino developers. For instance, Dennis Murphy, the former Springfield state rep who’s working (openly, I should add) for MGM, is not on the list.

In related news, Sarno announced today that the casino proposal—or proposals, should he reach draft agreements with both MGM and Penn National—will not appear on the June 25 special Senate election, as city officials had previously hoped.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate