PORTLAND — Environmental officials say they don’t plan to shut down Maine’s newest casino after a judge nullified its development permit less than two months after opening for business.

In a 10-page decision, Justice Michaela Murphy agreed with the Androscoggin River Alliance that the Department of Environmental Protection wrongly granted the permit for the Oxford Casino after considering just the first phase of the three-phase project.

The DEP said today that it will follow the judge’s order and reopen the permit review process, but won’t pursue closing down the casino.

Earlier today, Alliance attorney Stephen Hinchman said that without a permit, the casino must close. He said the DEP is violating state law by allowing the casino to operate without a permit.

“They went forward at their own risk and now they’re going to have to pay the price,” Hinchman told The Associated Press. “It was a gamble. It was a bad gamble.”

David Van Slyke, an attorney representing casino owner BB Development LLC, disagreed that the casino had to shut down. The ruling, he said, deals only with the technical aspects of one permit.

He told the Sun Journal of Lewiston, which first reported the court ruling today, that he and his client were evaluating Murphy’s ruling.

“We disagree with the decision both legally and factually and, obviously, we’re still evaluating it at this time,” he said.

Maine voters approved the casino in a statewide vote in November 2010. In March 2011, the DEP approved BB Development’s application for the first phase of the casino project. The following month, the Androscoggin River Alliance and a group of 18 year-round and seasonal residents appealed the decision to the Board of Environmental Protection, arguing that the DEP did not consider all three phases of the development as required by law in granting the permit for the first phase.

After the BEP denied the appeal, the alliance last August filed a lawsuit challenging the decision.

Murphy’s decision was signed last Wednesday and delivered to parties in the suit over the weekend.

Hinchman said the casino’s location, on top of a hill, doesn’t have adequate sewage facilities to handle any expanded development and jeopardizes groundwater supplies and surrounding ponds and streams.

“We’ve always said this was the wrong place for a development of this magnitude. It didn’t matter if it was a hospital, a church, a school or a casino, this is the wrong place for development,” he said. “Because the department and the board never looked at the impact of full build-out, they never answered the question of can this site sustain the level of sewage disposal when the project tripled at full build-out.”

DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho met this morning with staff from the Attorney’s General Office to determine what Murphy’s ruling means and what the next steps might be.

Patrick Fleming, executive director of the Maine Gambling Control Board, said the board will probably follow the lead of the DEP.


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