MGM Springfield Could Seek Delay in Opening
SPRINGFIELD — City officials confirmed Tuesday that MGM Springfield may coordinate its $800 million casino project in the South End with the reconstruction of the Interstate 91 viaduct through the city’s downtown, which could delay the casino opening until 2018. The original target date was late 2017. “While the actual opening date is subject to the approval by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the city recognizes that changes may be required to the schedule set forth in the host-community agreement to coordinate with the viaduct construction schedule,” said City Solicitor Ed Pikula. “The city intends to work cooperatively with MGM, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to hold MGM to the promises it made in the host-community agreement, while allowing for the flexibility required to assure a successful opening.” An MGM Springfield spokesman said the company plans to bring the discussion before the Gaming Commission. Its host-community agreement with Springfield sets financial penalties for opening more than 33 months after licensing, which occurred on Nov. 7, 2014. The I-91 viaduct project is expected to last until the summer of 2018, but financial incentives for an early finish could see it completed by February 2018.
DCR Seeks Applications for Park-improvement Effort
BOSTON — The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is now seeking applications for the first phase of the fiscal year 2016 Partnerships Matching Funds Program from park-advocacy groups, civic and community organizations, institutions, businesses, municipal governments, and dedicated individuals with an interest in improving the Commonwealth’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources. Through the program, DCR will allocate $1.25 million in matching funds to finance capital projects at the agency’s parks, beaches, and other facilities. Past projects include the design and construction of a new playground, repairs to historic buildings, trail and path enhancements, and landscape improvements. “The Partnerships Matching Funds Program is a great example of how DCR works together with residents and stakeholder organizations to improve our public resources,” said DCR Commissioner Carol Sanchez. “We are proud to continue to build upon the success of the Partnership Matching Funds Program, which has been responsible for a combined investment by the Commonwealth and public and private partners in trails, green spaces, historic structures, and water resources of more than $10 million since 2004.” Applications for DCR’s matching-funds program must provide a match of non-state funds for capital projects at the agency’s parks, beaches, and facilities to be considered. Projects that require more than one year to plan and complete will be under consideration. Once approved, DCR will manage the implementation of the projects in close consultation with the partners making contributions. The agency will match projects dollar for dollar and will also consider providing a two-to-one match in certain instances. For more information on the program, and to receive an application, call (617) 626-4989 or e-mail [email protected] Information and applications are also available at www.mass.gov/dcr; click the ‘Get Involved’ tab, then click on ‘Partnerships.’
Business Confidence Falls Again in May
BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index fell 1.8 points in May to 57.3, its second consecutive monthly decline after reaching a 10-year high in March. “We’re up 2.5 points from last May, but coming off an upward surge from August through March, business confidence seems to have lost momentum,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The index performed well during the first quarter of this year, when the national economy barely grew, but now it is weakening even as growth appears to be picking up.” Torto noted that economists’ forecasts for expansion in 2015 have moderated. “Our survey does reflect lower expectations for the six months ahead. We also see lagging confidence among manufacturers, whose exports are hurt by the strong dollar, and among mid-size companies.” AIM’s Business Confidence Index has been issued monthly since July 1991 under the oversight of the Board of Economic Advisors. Presented on a 100-point scale on which 50 is neutral, the index attained a historical high of 68.5 in 1997 and 1998; its all-time low was 33.3 in February 2009. The sub-indices based on selected questions or respondent characteristics almost all declined from April to May, though all were up from a year before. The U.S. Index assessing national business conditions lost 3.7 points to 50.1, and Massachusetts Index of conditions within the Commonwealth was off 2.7 at 55.9. “It is now six full years that the state indicator has led its national counterpart,” said BEA member Katherine Kiel, professor of Economics at the College of the Holy Cross. “Our state’s favorable industry mix and skilled workforce have enabled it to perform relatively well economically during a period of recovery and slow growth.” The Current Index, tracking employers’ assessment of existing business conditions, was down 0.9 to 57.4 points, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for the next six months, lost 2.8 points to 57.1. “These results indicate that Massachusetts employers do not foresee better business conditions over the period ahead,” Kiel said. “The readings are solidly positive, but expectations for marked improvement have faded.” Two of the three sub-indices related to survey respondents’ own companies lost ground in May: the Company Index, which assesses the situations of their own operations, was off 0.8 to 60.2 points, and the Sales Index dropped 1.7 points to 60.0. The Employment Index, meanwhile, added 0.7 to 58.0 points, “its highest reading since September 2005,” noted Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth. “Employment expectations for the next six months are particularly strong, as 37% of responding employers plan to add staff, while 14% expect reductions. This compares favorably to a 23%-12% split for the past six months.”
State Announces $10M Energy-storage Initiative
BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced the launch of a new, $10 million initiative aimed at making Massachusetts a national leader in energy storage. The Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) includes a $10 million commitment from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and a two-part study from DOER and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to analyze opportunities to support Commonwealth storage companies, as well as develop policy options to encourage energy-storage deployment. “The Commonwealth’s plans for energy storage will allow the state to move toward establishing a mature, local market for these technologies that will, in turn, benefit ratepayers and the local economy,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Massachusetts has an exciting opportunity to provide a comprehensive approach to support a growing energy-storage industry with this initiative’s analysis, policy, and program development.” Added EEA Secretary Matthew Beaton, “Massachusetts is nationally recognized for energy efficiency and clean-energy job growth. This Energy Storage Initiative will ensure the Commonwealth continues to be on the forefront of advancing innovative clean technology. Through this initial $10 million announcement and the subsequent studies, Massachusetts is primed to leverage the expertise of the storage industry to reduce barriers to project implementation, ultimately advancing a crucial component of modernizing our electric grid.” Massachusetts’ $10 billion clean-energy industry already supports a promising energy-storage cluster, said MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton. “By launching the Energy Storage Initiative and fostering this sector at home, Massachusetts will position itself to grab a disproportionate share of the economic opportunities arising out of the fast-growing global markets for storage technology.” The worldwide market for grid-scale energy storage alone is estimated to reach $114 billion by 2017, according to an analysis by Lux Research. Common methods of energy storage include batteries, flywheels, compressed-air energy storage, pumped storage, hydrogen storage, and thermal-energy storage. The two-part study will start by analyzing the industry landscape, economic development, and market opportunities for energy storage, while also examining potential policies and programs that could be implemented to better support energy-storage deployment in Massachusetts. The second part of the study will provide policy and regulatory recommendations along with cost-benefit analysis for state policymakers. In parallel, DOER will leverage $10 million in Alternative Compliance Payments (ACPs) to establish and support the Commonwealth’s energy-storage market. DOER will work to identify and evaluate the appropriate value of the services energy storage can provide to ratepayers and the grid through a market signals assessment, while funding demonstration projects from the utility to residential scales. DOER will work with MassCEC and key market players, in state and across the country, to assist in the development of innovative projects in the Commonwealth. Through this initiative, Energy and Environmental Affairs will hold several forums to engage experts and industry in storage-policy opportunities in the coming months. “Massachusetts continues to play a leading role in creating solutions for a more flexible and resilient grid,” said Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Assoc. “These investments … will undoubtedly spur continued advancement in the industry.”
DevelopSpringfield, ReGreen Springfield to Plant on Pine Street
SPRINGFIELD — DevelopSpringfield announced a collaborative project with ReGreen Springfield to provide plantings to help spruce up a vacant DevelopSpringfield-owned lot on Pine Street in the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood. ReGreen Springfield collaborates with a variety of community organizations, businesses, and government agencies to promote reforestation in Springfield. Founded following the 2011 tornado, the organization has since planted nearly 2,000 trees across the city and provided educational programming throughout its neighborhoods. “DevelopSpringfield is pleased to support and partner with ReGreen Springfield on this project. Like ReGreen, we are committed to encouraging sustainable redevelopment, especially in tornado-impacted areas, and we always strive to collaborate with other aligned nonprofit organizations. Working with ReGreen Springfield is a natural fit,” said Jay Minkarah, president and CEO of DevelopSpringfield. In 2013, DevelopSpringfield purchased several residential lots in the Central Street corridor with a goal of preparing them for redevelopment into owner-occupied housing. Some of the properties are currently under redevelopment. The Pine Street location will be among the lots available for a future development. In the meantime, the plantings will create an attractive, environmentally sustainable backdrop that will help jumpstart tree growth in the neighborhood in advance of site redevelopment. For more information on DevelopSpringfield, visit www.developspringfield.com.
MMS Launches Website on Opioid, Prescription Abuse
WALTHAM — The Mass. Medical Society (MMS) announced the launch of the Smart Scripts MA website (www.massmed.org/smartscriptsma) as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce prescription-drug abuse in the Commonwealth. The website is the cornerstone of the campaign announced last month by the physicians’ group to educate doctors and patients about safe prescribing and the storage and disposal of prescription pain medications. “There are two groups that perhaps more than any others can help to reduce prescription drug abuse. They are the physicians who write the prescriptions and the patients who take the medicines,” said Dr. Dennis Dimitri, president of the Mass. Medical Society. “This new website reaches out to both groups. By helping physicians ensure that opioids are available only to patients who truly need them, and by educating patients about the proper storage and disposal of prescription drugs, we believe we can make a big impact on the Commonwealth’s opioid crisis.” The medical society’s campaign consists of three components: guidelines for prescribers, free educational courses for prescribers, and information on storage and disposal of prescription drugs. The new website establishes all three components in one, easily accessible location. The prescriber-education section includes the MMS’ recently released Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication Guidelines for physicians. The section also contains links to its continuing medical-education courses, offered free to all prescribers until further notice, Dr. Dimitri said, “to remove as many barriers as possible to prescriber education.” Courses include those on managing pain, identifying drug dependence, opioid prescribing, and principles of palliative care. Five courses are currently available, with more to be added later this month. Recognizing the critical importance of proper storage and disposal of prescription medicines by patients, Smart Scripts MA includes separate sections on medication storage and medication disposal. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 80% of people who misuse prescription pain medications are using drugs prescribed to someone else, and the MMS believes patient education must be a key component of any effort to reduce prescription abuse. The website also includes content from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 and dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and helping families impacted by addiction, and a link to the Medicine Abuse Project, a five-year campaign by the Partnership that aims to prevent a half-million teens from abusing medicine by the year 2017. “Opioid abuse has become a public-health crisis affecting every community,” Dimitri said. “Physicians and patients can make a real difference in reducing the abuse of prescription drugs. We believe our effort can help both groups do just that — make a difference — because people’s lives depend on it.”