Tribe and town reach deal to secure casino site

Updated Aug. 30

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the town have reached an agreement on securing the casino site until the tribe’s appeal, filed with the First Circuit Court of Appeals, is completed.

The “Joint Stipulation” was filed with U.S. District Court in Boston Friday. Work on securing the site will begin Tuesday, and will be completed by Sept. 15, under the agreement. The tribe has made it clear that it wanted to secure the site, while the town had been against any further work being done.

The deal comes one week after U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor IV ordered the tribe to secure the site. It was Saylor who issued a decision in July that halted work on the casino project. The judge ruled that the tribe has absolute rights to build a casino on reservation lands, but that it must seek building permits for the project.

In his order, Saylor ordered the tribe to install protective covers on exposed rebar ends “that present an impalement hazard,” restrict access to exposed trenches by installing covers or portable barriers, and reinforce existing fences and/or install new fencing to restrict public access to the site.

In a statement released before the agreement, tribe chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais wrote that securing the site is something the tribe has wanted to do since the judge’s ruling in July. “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.”

On Thursday afternoon, Andrews-Maltais allowed a Times photographer access to the site, pointing to the rebar the judge talked about in his order. The tribe also released plans for the structure’s foundation, which show the 11,000-square-foot concrete slab that the oval-shaped Sprung Construction building would be secured to once the legal issues are worked out.

The foundation plans were also released to the town, according to the stipulated agreement. “The Tribe will proceed with its proposed limited plan to render the site safe and preserve work done to date …,” the agreement states. 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.”

Both sides have agreed to act in good faith, and the tribe has agreed to let a town building inspector and town engineer on the site with one hour’s notice. Both sides have also agreed not to use the stipulation as evidence in the pending case. The tribe also submits that work “may have to be undone” if it loses on appeal.

In his order, Saylor designated Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley as a mediator to conduct hearings and settle disputes between the parties.

Meanwhile, the tribe officially appealed Saylor’s ruling to the First Circuit on Monday, August 26.

Updated with the first authorized photographs of the tribe’s casino site.

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