Boston Racetrack Fined $1.25 Million for Clean Water Act Violations

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC will pay a civil penalty of $1.25 million to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) at its Suffolk Downs racetrack facility in Revere and East Boston, Mass., the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced. The company is also spending more than $3 million to prevent polluted water from entering nearby waterways and will perform three environmental projects worth approximately $742,000 that will provide water quality monitoring and protection efforts for more than 123 square miles of watershed.  The terms of the settlement are contained in a consent decree lodged in federal court in Boston today.

The federal complaint alleges that Suffolk allowed polluted wastewater, including horse manure, urine and bedding material, to discharge into Sales Creek, a tributary of Belle Isle Inlet and Boston Harbor. In addition, the federal complaint alleges that Suffolk operated its concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), which stables race horses from March through November, without a permit under the CWA.

“Today’s agreement will prevent further discharges of wastewater from Suffolk Downs into local waterways and will bring the racetrack into compliance with the Clean Water Act, which protects America’s streams, wetlands and rivers from the impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.  “The settlement also brings lasting benefits to residents and the environment by requiring water quality monitoring in the Mystic and Saugus river watersheds and a salt marsh habitat protection project near the racetrack.”

“This settlement reduces a major source of pollution into Boston Harbor,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  “In addition, the settlement’s environmental projects include monitoring water quality in the harbor’s watershed, helping to protect a valuable urban waterway for the use and enjoyment of Boston area residents and visitors.”

In response to EPA’s enforcement at this facility, Suffolk is completing construction of a wastewater collection system, is making improvements to its stormwater collection system and has applied for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  Suffolk will minimize the volume of and properly manage the wastewater it produces, which will now be collected in a detention pond and discharged during non-peak hours to the sanitary sewer system.  Suffolk will also implement green infrastructure and low impact development techniques to address stormwater discharges from the racetrack and maintenance areas of the facility.  These techniques involve the use of natural or engineered systems to direct stormwater to areas where it can be stored, infiltrated, evapotranspirated or reused.

“This case is yet another reminder of the department’s longstanding commitment to defending the integrity of our precious natural resources through vigorous enforcement of our environmental laws,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.  “Today’s settlement will help safeguard a cleaner environment for the citizens of the commonwealth to preserve and enjoy, and protect sensitive waterways and wetlands from harmful pollution.”
EPA inspections revealed that Suffolk Down’s process wastewater discharged from the facility to Sales Creek during dry and wet weather.  EPA inspectors observed stormwater contaminated with manure and turbid, brown runoff being discharged from the facility to Sales Creek.  Sampling conducted at various outfalls discharging from the Suffolk Downs facility   indicated elevated levels of pollutants, including ammonia, suspended solids and bacteria. Animal wastes contain excessive levels of nutrients and pathogens, which produce adverse environmental impacts including reduction of oxygen in the water, which affects aquatic life.

Suffolk will undertake three supplemental environmental projects under this settlement, including two water quality monitoring projects and one habitat protection project.  Suffolk will work with the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) to conduct monthly baseline and targeted water quality sampling throughout the Mystic River watershed and will work with the Saugus River Watershed Council (SRWC) to conduct a Saugus River watershed sampling program.  Both the Mystic River watershed and Saugus River watershed data will be available to the public for free on the MyRWA and SRWC websites.  Suffolk will also construct a habitat protection boardwalk in the Belle Isle Marsh, which is immediately downstream of the Suffolk Downs facility and represents one of the largest remaining areas of salt marsh in Boston Harbor.  The Belle Isle Marsh encompasses 275 acres of salt marsh, salt meadow and tidal flats, and is part of the Rumney Marsh Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and ground waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011-2013.  The initiative focuses on large and medium sized CAFOs that are discharging pollution without or in violation of a permit.