Middleborough Takes on the Mashpee Wampanoags

There’s a story in the Globe today about how the town of Middleborough is fixing for a fight with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. The long and short of it is that back in the summer of 2007, the tribe and town struck a deal for the Mashpee to pay Middleborough $250,000 per year in mitigation and planning costs in exchange for the right to open a casino there. Middleborough went through a wrenching public process that utterly divided the town, but ultimately approved the deal. The municipal offices staffed up to be able to handle what they expected to be all the extra work having a casino in town would bring. Then the Mashpee went silent … and boom, next thing you know, the tribe has a deal to open their casino in Fall River. Middleborough officials found out about it on the news. The $250,000 payments stopped. See ya later, Middleborough.

Tribe leaders have never gone into specifics, but the generally held belief is that the Mashpee decided the infrastructure costs associated with building in Middleborough were too great. In other words, they thought they could get a better deal elsewhere. Now they have a deal to build in Taunton. Thing is, Middleborough still doesn’t think the tribe ever had any right to leave. That city officials are raising hell now about it is no surprise — while reporting the story I wrote back in December about the Mashpee Wampanoags and their push for a casino, plenty of folks in town made it clear to me that they were still very, very angry about the Mashpee’s machinations. Selectmen Allin Frawley told me at the time that he intended to push his fellow selectmen to file a lawsuit against the Mashpee to get the tribe to pay up. That could still be in play.

Would such a suit have legal merit? I’m no lawyer, but it seems like Middleborough and the Mashpee had a perfectly good deal that the tribe simply walked away from because it decided it didn’t like the terms. So on the face of things, yeah, I’d say Middleborough has a point. But then again, there could be some small legal point somewhere in the agreement that allowed the tribe to get out. Neither side will go into specifics other than to say that they’re in the right, so it’s hard to tell. But this much is clear: Middleborough can be a major pain in the Mashpee Wampanoags’ side. What if they do file a lawsuit and that halts progress on the tribe’s casino plans? My best bet is that, ultimately, the tribe will have to pay Middleborough to go away.

Oh, by the way, a self-promotional programming note: I’ll be on WGBH radio 89.7 FM’s Callie Crossley show today at about 1:20 p.m. talking about casinos and the Mashpee Wampanoag, so, please, have a listen!