Opinion: Rezoning would be detrimental to Wareham

Apr 7, 2021

To the Editor:

I'd like first to mention the inspiring conversations I have had today walking Swift's Neck to talk with residents about our Vote on Sat. at 12, Spillane Field. People want to be heard. They are eager to have questions clarified and tell what they love of the natural world. In a rough poll, they are 90 percent in favor of closing the door to big city development in their town.

How did the Notos Group Limited Liability Corporation land in Wareham proposing the original 5,860 acre business district overlay with them on center stage; landing on what must have looked like prime real estate from google earth? There it was, a development zone, green on the map, ponds and river water running through it next to a major highway leading through the state with ease; New York and points south, 195 north and a skip away from Cape Cod Canal. Yes, we do look good from Google Earth, because our land is still a rich forest to sea community, filled with the beauty of ice age ponds and streams with unique and rare living beings that can be decimated with a few strokes of a bulldozer. One Notos Group LLC ad highlights tires on their tentatively contracted development site as indication our land is trashed, wasted and in need of huge investment to make Wareham something worthwhile. You should then see the overhead drone view traveling across hundreds of acres of living bio-systems developed through time into an interconnected whole. With uprooting, clear cutting of trees, bulldozing animals' homes and food, forcing them to flee and die, we also destroy the great wealth of life diversity, air and water rejuvenation we humans get from the forests, the ponds, the rivers and streams. It is wealth squandered everywhere we look. It is gone forever and for what?

Having spent $480,000 and counting on lobbyists in the state house who advertise their former positions of power, the Notos Group continues retaining at least two lobbyists specializing in horse racing legislation and gaming. Thomas O'Connell, CEO of the group, said from the start that the return of thoroughbred racing, "the sport of kings" in Mass. is his goal. He states his track would rival Saratoga in Florida and Churchill Downs in England. Attractive to many for the beauty of horses, the dark side of track racing is wrenching. People, like the voters in Rowley, Ma. who were approached by the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to use Rowley for a track, know this dark side. A massive outpouring had Rowley's fire chief shut the meeting down, showing the track proponents the door as they saw they didn't have community support. People know how young horses across the country's tracks die from racing or are later killed, their usefulness expired. The sport of kings is full of people who would push their horse by any means to win. Trained for strenuous racing before their growing ligaments and bones are prepared for the stress of racing, young horses are prone to injury, as they are whipped down a brutal (for Notos a full mile) track with their tongues usually tied to the side of their mouths so as not to obstruct breathing. The winners are exalted, the losers, expensive to put out to pasture, regularly end up packed into tractor trailers, shipped across U.S. borders to horse meat slaughterhouses. 

Slots are another gambling industry with a dark, socially expensive side. At Mr. O'Connell's debut in Wareham he stated one obstruction to be overcome was the statewide mandate in 2011 for a full Casino in our region, region C. That casino was to be built by the Wampanoag tribe in Taunton, until the past administration revoked their tribal authority and the casino halted. Soon after the Notos proposal for slots was introduced, Rep. Susan Gifford (R.) Wareham introduced her house bill to overturn the Commonwealth's vote in 2011 limiting gambling to one slot and three casinos, our region C the only one unbuilt. This overturning would allow the Notos Group their slot with its track. Our Senator, Marc Pacheco, called the proposal a self-serving move by the Notos Group contrary to the will of the people that would re-open the question of increased gambling across the state. As Rep. Gifford's bill supported the Notos Group's slots, another House bill was introduced to sticker all slots warning of the addictive nature of the games by design. Scores of game engineers and special effects techs create slots games more akin to a Spielberg blockbuster, designing slots to put players in a comfort zone of isolating reinforcement. Bells and whistles announce winning non stop as many games are played at once. Socially vulnerable people often made more vulnerable with alcohol are comforted in the zone, playing hour upon hour, losing their contact with reality and their winnings to debt. Families are impacted, wages lost, children absorbed by conflict unable to concentrate in school. It happens day to day to people we know. Wareham wins? The house always wins. 

People I spoke with today shook their heads envisioning trading the land that is Wareham for the now-reduced area of 756 acres of business overlay district seen for what it is, an invitation to destruction of our natural world that once gone, is gone. Notos Attorney Tochio calls development a "virtuous cycle." Glen Charlie Road gets widened and straightened for faster traffic to the development, traffic lights get put in, land cleared for construction and new enterprises. This in turn brings more development, with more amenities, and so it goes. Opening the door to development begets more development with room for development the size of 16 Gillette Stadiums, a minimum of 100 acres to each proposal. As the reach of Boston developers extends south down Route 3, people I spoke with who have come from endless cycles of development altering their communities fear for Wareham meeting the same future. 

While, as the war against nature continues, our unspoiled land increases in value as respite and a place to enjoy. Our economy can be uplifted by the beauty of our main street between marsh and pond, with a deep water harbor at its end. Cranberry Highway can be made safe and attractive to visitors rather than an incentive to return to the highway. If a national infrastructure bill is passed, a proposed grant for correcting our waste water crisis would be top of the list. Employing a grant writer, like other towns have, brings in funding. A tree warden to help restore our invasive choked trees along town streets and create green spaces would build community. We must also think of buying the land that lies over the vast aquifer that is an invaluable rarity and resource for the region. Those who say the development can't disturb it are wrong. The sandy, gravelly soil of the area allows any contaminant to move right through it into the aquifer, whose running water would rapidly migrate the pollutant. All of Wareham's planning documents write in great detail about the vital importance of preserving this land from pollutants, yet the developer community writes it off as no big deal.

Water is life. It is our children's future.The Notos Group proposal is a blank check written by them, changed thirty times, and soon voted on without knowing what they have in mind, except that it "will be big." Boston developer big.

How about we get through the pandemic and assess our need for everyone's health, the recovery of our kids' education and economic advancement from broader discussions of environmental risks to form community decisions well thought out, including our elders who are wise about irreversible change but may fear a crowded voting field and stay home, disenfranchised. Let's focus together on what we truly need to build the future we want for our children's survival and the natural world to sustain them. 

No blank checks for NOTOS. 

Vote no. 

Annie Hayes