Suffolk Downs, the East Boston racetrack competing to build a resort casino, has been fined $1.25 million for discharging horse dung, urine, and other pollutants into tributaries of the Boston Harbor, according to court records filed in US District Court in Boston Wednesday.
The racetrack agreed to a consent decree that was filed with the court after federal officials began investigating high levels of bacteria and fecal matter in the wetlands around the racetrack. A review beginning in 2008 found the pollutants had been funneling into Sales Creek, which cuts through the racetrack’s 161 acres of land. From there, they made their way into the Belle Isle Inlet, becoming part of Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean and endangering aquatic life.
According to a complaint filed with the court, the illegal discharge had been occurring since at least 2006 and possibly as early as 2004, and may have continued up until last year.
The consent decree, filed under the federal Clean Water Act, requires that the racetrack pay the agreed-upon fine and develop a proper discharge management plan. Officials said much of that work has been completed. The company could have faced fines of more than $30,000 a day, dating back to 2008, under federal law.
“This settlement reduces a major source of pollution into Boston Harbor,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.
According to the EPA, the management system will funnel all wastewater into a retention pond, and then discharge it into a sanitary sewer system. The racetrack will also implement green infrastructure as part of its plan to redirect stormwater from the racetrack and maintenance areas of the facility.
As part of the decree, the track has also committed more than $700,000 for water quality monitoring of watershed areas along the Mystic and Saugus rivers for protection efforts beyond the horse pollution. The company also agreed to build a habitat protection boardwalk in the Belle Isle Marsh, located downstream of the Suffolk Downs facility. The marsh represents one of the largest remaining areas of salt marsh in Boston Harbor, according to the EPA.
The Mystic River Watershed Association welcomed the consent decree and the extra monitoring efforts, saying, “Steps being taken by Suffolk Downs ownership under this agreement . . . will support protection and restoration of the local environment and will benefit area residents and advocates who seek clean water to be restored in these important urban rivers.”
Suffolk Downs also violated federal guidelines by housing 500 or more horses for at least 199 days a year in recent years without a permit. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System guidelines were meant to manage discharge from such concentrated animal grounds into waterways.
The company has since applied for a permit allowing it to comply with the guidelines, though one has not yet been granted.
Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer for Suffolk Downs, issued a statement in which he said the company took quick action following the initial investigation by the EPA.
“Suffolk Downs has worked cooperatively with federal and state environmental agencies since this issue first surfaced five years ago and we have already taken substantial measures, including construction of a new $3.5 million drainage system in our barn area, to address the conditions and bring us into compliance,’’ Tuttle said in the statement.
“We are confident that, in addition to our on-site improvements, our new walkway project in Belle Isle Marsh and our water testing in the Mystic and Saugus rivers will contribute to a better environment in our area for the future,” Tuttle said.