Monday, June 25, 2007

Stewards of the Land?

Because I know that the problems of a major casino will not confine themselves to Middleboro, when I first heard about the Precinct Street land sale to the Wampanoag's, I started driving down from Bridgewater to attend Middleboro town meetings, and of course, the Wampanoag informational session with Chief Glenn Marshall at the Nichols School.

Time after time, Mr. Marshall referred to himself and his tribe as, "Stewards of the Land". This was of some interest to me because, in my own small way, I also feel like a steward of the land.

I was born and raised in Middleboro and, as a child, there were no woods, no path or road or meadow or river in the West End that I hadn't explored and called my own. Much of it is now sits under cranberry bogs - but at least cranberry bogs are a Middleboro institution. The respect and love I developed for the land as a child never left. As an adult, I purchased six acres in Bridgewater, built a home on one and kept the other five as pristine woods, pasture and wetland. And every year I put my money where my mouth is when the property tax bill shows up. I have three active compost bins out back, I recycle faithfully, and when it's time to replace my car, I'll check out the new hybrids.

So like I said, in my own small, individual way, I feel like a steward of the land. But nowhere in my definition of stewardship is it possible to contemplate plunking down a thirty-four story casino in the midst of milk cows, horses and quiet homes. No where would it include forever altering the landscape and integrity of a small town for the sake of slot machines. And no where would it include funneling the traffic, consumption and waste of 50,000 daily casino visitors into unspoiled conservation land.

In severely economically depressed areas, a casino does bring relief, but when they show up in areas with 95% employment rates, they just cause more problems. Labor must be imported to fill low paying jobs, it must be housed and schooled and property taxes will rise as a result. And if you think a rotary flyover is going to make life easier, you weren't sitting in the 17 mile backup at the Bourne Bridge this weekend. Whatever cut of the profit the Wampanoag's gives Middleboro, it's not going cover the eventual costs to the town. And the border between our towns won't insulate my community from the lower property values, crime, addiction or drunk drivers a casino generates.

At the meeting with the Wampanoag's I watched in disbelief as a member of the Middleboro Historical Commission proclaimed with glee that a casino would make Middleboro a "destination town". But places like Middleboro and Bridgewater already are destination towns. They're the places people want to call home. They are the places people want to move and raise their children. They are those rare places in our part of Massachusetts where you can still find open fields and rock walls, and where every tree hasn't been cut down to make way for a Wal-mart or car dealership or subdivision. Our towns glisten like green jewels in a landscape of asphalt and shopping carts. Middleboro would do better to court industry which would bring families to enjoy the area, to take time exploring historic places, and spend their money in town, not inside the dark walls of a casino.

As a kid in Middleboro, I'd often discover arrowheads and axes that the Wampanoag's ancestors left behind, but knew nothing about them as a people. If the Tribe were truly stewards of the land it seems to me that a living heritage museum teaching generations about their culture and heritage would be a more respectful use for that particular property.

And to Middleboro residents who are concerned for the future of their town, I would request that you start calling and writing your representatives, and going to town meetings to make yourself heard. There will always be people who see the value of "land" and others who can see the value of "The Land". And from what I've seen on my visits to Middleboro, the stewards of your town see neither.

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