Middleborough Hedges Its Bets

Middleborough selectmen have delayed a decision on whether to host a casino in the town.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe want to build one on land it owns there and have offered to pay the town seven million dollars annually over the next ten years in exchange for an agreement.

Now, Middleborough's selectmen are looking to revise that tentative deal and say it'll be at least a month before they present a new proposal to the people.

At a public hearing that lasted almost four hours last night, many residents told town leaders they want a say in the matter. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports.


ESTABLISH LITTLE LEAGUE SOUND AT "Let's go Wyatt — let's go — get a hit!" THEN UNDER AND OUT BY *

Last night the teams in yellow and green were sponsored by a local oil supply company and a well driller. Fifteen years ago the parking lot here would have been filled with pickups; this town of 20,000 used to live off of farming and manufacturing.

Today, it's SUVs and sedans. Middleborough changed with the commuter rail line that came through here, letting people live the rural life but still mine the riches over the horizon. *Now the town's location, in the middle of Boston, Cape Cod and Providence, is putting the town in reach of a new share in riches — that is, if Middleborough wants to change again.


In a packed high school auditorium last night, an attorney for the Mashpee Wampanoag, Laurence Deitsch, made his pitch to the town. Under the plan, the tribe would pay for any new roads and sewer and fire and police related to the casino. That could be $150 million dollars. Deitsch said, don't forget the new jobs and the boost to the economy.

In return the Mashpee want to turn the land they've bought into tribal land. That would take a few hundred acres off the tax rolls. So the tribe would pitch in seven million dollars a year over the next ten years to offset that revenue. Deitsch said it's a good deal for Middleborough.

LAURENCE DEITSCH: In my head and in my heart, I believe that if this town approves this agreement, none of you will ever regret it, and you'll be proud that you made that vote. What we want is a decision. As quickly as possible.


Then residents lined up all the way to the back of the room to be recognized to speak.

ESTABLISH SOUND AT "Goodness gracious where do I start?"

Even though the meeting went for hours, there still wasn't enough time for everyone to speak. Some, such as Joe Freitas, urged the selectman to sign the agreement right away before other towns could lure the casino project away.

JOE FREITAS: Now the rest of the world and Massachusetts knows how big the golden egg is. Seven million dollars. Other communities are going to be looking at it. Let's not pass up this opportunity. (APPLAUSE)

But the louder applause came for opponents. They worried about the environmental impact; how high the casino could be built; whether the lights would keep them up at night. Resident Rick Perry said a casino would change Middleborough forever:

RICK PERRY: I think this seven million dollars is a joke. It comes out to maybe a dollar per car per day. The economic and character impact to our town would be devastating. Perhaps you as selectmen and town manager, maybe you have jobs lined up there, I don't know.

The only job lined up last night was that of a tribal gaming attorney. The selectmen hired him to spend the next month or so reviewing and amending their tentative deal with the tribe. Then they'll bring it up again at another meeting.

The Mashpee Wampanoag may have wanted to hit a home run with a yes-vote last night, but it looks like this one is going to grind out at least a few more innings.


Just down the street from the auditorium at the little league baseball diamond, Tom Belmore looked on through the chain link fence as his son warmed up in the on-deck circle. Belmore thinks these next few weeks will be trying for Middleborough.

TOM BELMORE: I mean, you get that in just about every community. They don't want to see their community change. They kind of like it the way it is. But hey, face it! We need jobs. We need money.

Whether the Mashpee are the answer to that, Middleborough may soon get a chance to decide. The town selectman say they're considering some sort of non-binding vote to let the residents weigh in on the issue, without having to wait almost a year for the next municipal election.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on June 14, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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