PORTLAND — Maine’s newest casino will remain open while environmental officials revisit the permit review process less than two months after the casino opened for business, officials said Monday.

The Department of Environmental Protection said it will follow a judge’s order and reopen the development permit process, but that it has no intention of asking the Oxford Casino to shut its doors.

In a 10-page decision, Justice Michaela Murphy last week agreed with the Androscoggin River Alliance in a lawsuit that argued the DEP wrongly granted the permit last year after considering just the first phase of the three-phase project. Murphy ordered that the permit application be sent back to the DEP for further consideration.

DEP officials and staff from the attorney general’s office met Monday to discuss the decision, with both agencies expressing disappointment in Murphy’s ruling.

Casino owner BB Development LLC pursed the development in good faith and in accordance with the permit issued by the department, the DEP said in a prepared statement.

“No allegation by the appellant or findings by the court since have shown this development has caused any environmental degradation, nor did the appellant seek a stay of the construction of the project,” the DEP said.

Attorney Stephen Hinchman, who represents the alliance, said the casino should close without a permit and that the DEP is violating state law by allowing it to stay open.

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

David Van Slyke, an attorney representing casino owner BB Development LLC, disagreed that the casino has 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 on Monday, that he and his client were evaluating Murphy’s ruling. Van Slyke did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

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.”

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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