Because of improved water quality in Boston Harbor, the city’s waterfront increasingly hums with life during the spring, summer, and fall months. So recent reports that Suffolk Downs inadvertently discharged horse manure, urine, and other pollutants into tributaries of the harbor from as early as 2004 to as recently as 2011 are especially disturbing to the growing number of people who live near and play in the water. The problem, which reflects on the racetrack’s relationship with the area around it, deserves careful scrutiny from state gambling commissioners as they consider whether to grant the racetrack one of the state’s three casino resort licenses.
According to court records filed by the Environmental Protection Agency last week, the racetrack was fined $1.5 million in 2008 for contributing a “major source” of pollution to the harbor, threatening water quality and endangering aquatic life. The EPA found that the pollutants were entering the waterway through a creek that cuts through the racetrack’s land, and then made their way into the Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.
In the track’s defense, officials there point out that the discharges were inadvertent, and that they began working to fix the problem as soon as the EPA brought it to their attention in 2008. That solution included the construction of a new $3.5 million drainage system that went online earlier this year, which will eliminate 193 tons of horse manure, urine, and other pollutants from winding up in the Belle Isle Inlet and Boston Harbor each year.
Still, the case Suffolk Downs has made for why it should be granted a resort-casino license rests heavily on the track’s commitment to its East Boston neighbors and its future patrons. That’s why track officials have pledged $40 million to improve nearby roads if their bid is successful, and why they spell out, on the track’s glossy website, their commitment to “doing the right things with the right mindset.” Casino projects change entire communities even under the best of circumstances. Gambling commissioners should demand that bidders be alert to problems that might threaten their surroundings.