How Complete Was Wynn’s Cleanup of Monsanto?
By Josh Resnek
I have walked the site of our grand casino. I visit once a week delivering the Leader Herald.
I take a look around.
The view from the front of the hotel looking south reveals the newly remade shoreline, with the casino land, now a lush natural style pedestrian walkway jutting out into the Mystic River.
At low tide, the sandy flats are visible at both sides of the small harbor that exist in front of the hotel, where the transit craft pull up and dock with visitors from Boston everyday.
The appearance on a sunny day is the sea shining, the sandy flats clean and gray. The entire vista is an exact opposite of what it used to be.
Each time I visit, I am blown away by the plantings of thousands of mature trees and shrubs throughout the 33 acre site, once the most contaminated piece of abused and ruined land in all of Massachusetts.
I remain awestruck by the transformation from toxic dump to a greater Boston attraction, from a Chernobyl type misery zone, to one of the busiest and largest generators of money in the North East with a five star hotel and a first class casino.
The place is beautiful and the access to the Mystic River is something this town has not had in over 100 years. The place is so nice, I considered jumping into the river or casting a fishing rod to see if there were any sign of life. It then made me wonder, how safe the water is now.
It may be safe but I don’t think it would be a good idea to start swimming there or fishing – besides neither of those activities would be allowed under the current ownership.
In 2006, US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton (District of Massachusetts) ruled that Monsanto, the chief polluter of the site for over 75 years, had been dumping filthy and deadly toxins on the land and into the river during a century when no one seemed to care.
Gorton’s decision protected any future owners of the land who decided to develop it by making Monsanto responsible for the remediation of the land.
The decision required Monsanto to pay 90% of all of the cleanup costs associated with any development of the land. Judge Gorton’s decision stated that, 11as a practical matter, it is unlikely that the property will be fully remediated, but even a partial remediation will require, at a minimum, additional testing, treatment of soils and treatment of low pH areas affecting the groundwater. 11
It would take a deep pocketed corporation like Monsanto to clean it up, but Monsanto has a long acknowledged reputation for slow rolling cleanups on other land around the country where they were also liable for the remediation.
Monsanto has dragged its corporate feet in taking responsibility for PCB cleanup sites in the northeast U.S. and Roundup weed killer sites throughout the country. They are a large corporation that preserves its cash through legal proceedings that usually result in settlements.
With Monsanto on the hook, Wynn purchased the land in January 2015. At the time of the purchase, Wynn had conducted extensive testing on the land to understand the effort it would take to clean the land both the land in Everett and the shoreline and river bottom of the parcel they also purchased which lie in Boston. However, Wynn needed parking and that meant digging multiple stories into the ground, deep into areas where the pollution levels were toxic. This caused them to take a different approach and one that may seem odd.
Wynn came to an agreement with Monsanto to take on all, 100%, of the liability of cleanup. In exchange, Monsanto paid $8 million to Wynn as a contribution to the cleanup and the former land owners, FBT Everett Realty, agreed to contribute $2 million for a total of $10 million. So how much did it cost to clean the land?
On September 13, 2018, Wynn Resorts’ Encore Boston Harbor issued a carefully worded press release that it had cleaned one of the most polluted sites in the country. Paying over $68 million, Encore claimed to have dredged 41,000 tons of sediment from the inlet on the Mystic River using barges, capping it with “30,000 tons of clean sand and a 24,000 square-foot living shoreline was planted to bring the site to its original condition, facilitate the natural cleanup of the Mystic River and support the return of native fish and wildlife to the area.” How true was this statement?
Wynn has donated money to non-profit environmental organizations who supported the cleanup effort. One of those non profits, Mystic River Watershed Association, not only received funding from Wynn, but its president, Lawrence Feldman, PhD, was also head of GZA, the firm Wynn contracted to clean the
site. Another outspoken non-profit, The Environmental League of Massachusetts, has received money from Wynn and publicly applauded the cleanup. In fact, both of these non-profits were outspoken to support Wynn when Somerville’s Mayor Joe Curtatone blocked the Department of Environmental Protection from granting Wynn a key license to continue construction on the Monsanto site in March 2016.
On February 4, 2019, Everett Property LLC (A Wynn owned entity that holds the Boston parcel of the Monsanto site that seamlessly abuts Everett) filed a Notice of Activity and Use Limitation indicating that there are toxins and metals beneath an 18-inch cap of sand located in the Mystic River. According to a Notice of Activity and Use Limitation that Everett Property LLC filed with the Suffolk County registry of deeds “Chemicals detected in sediment remaining on-site beneath the cap include the following:.Phthalates: BEHP, butylbenzylphtahalate, and di-n octylphthalate Extractable petroleum hydrocarbon factions and target analyses: C9-Cl 8 aliphatic, Cl 9-C36 aliphatics, Cl l-C22 aromatics, acenaphthene, acenaphthylene, anthracene, benzo(a) anthracene, Benz(a)pyrene, Benz(b)fluoranthene, Benz(g,h,i)perpylene, benzo(k)flruoanthene, chrysene, dibenz(ash)anthracene, fluoranthene, fluorene, indeno (1,2,3-cd) pyrene, 2-methylnaphathalene, naphthalene, phenanthrene, and pyrene.
PCBs: Aroclor 1254 and Aroclor 1260 – Metals: Antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, thallium, vanadium and zinc.
So that is what is just off shore under 18 inches of soil along the coast of the Mystic?
Yes it is.
Eighteen inches is all that separates passengers who ride on the Encore boat shuttles whose propellers stir up sediment on the river bottom each day. Eighteen inches, a cap that protects our citizens from chemical compounds that can and do cause cancer and death.
While Encore may have made progress on improving the land and water quality, the sediment in the Mystic River is “capped” not cleaned. Former chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Stephen Crosby, had even been briefed on the fact that planting oysters near the shoreline, a promise made by then Encore president Robert DeSalvio, was a priority. That was a priority until Wynn discovered that planting oysters would prove to be a public health hazard to those brave enough to wade into the Mystic and eat one.
Enjoy the vistas that Encore provides Everett but stay out of the water, and certainly don’t eat anything caught swimming in that area.