Fair Grounds Must Pay Record Fine in Clean Water Act Settlement

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Fair Grounds | Sarah Andrew

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In an attempt to resolve years of federal Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at its Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company, LLC, has agreed to pay a $2.7 million penalty–the largest civil fine ever paid by a concentrated animal feeding operation in a CWA matter.

Under the terms of the settlement announced Sept. 29 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), the limited liability company that runs Fair Grounds must also implement $5.6 million in operational changes and construction projects to eliminate the unauthorized discharges of manure, urine, and wastewater from the track’s stable area.

“We are pleased to announce an agreement with Churchill Downs to address years of CWA violations at its Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans,” said principal deputy assistant attorney general Jonathan Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This consent decree will stop the flow of untreated process wastewater into the local sewer system, which leads to local waters used for fishing…in a way that recognizes the challenges presented by the racetrack’s urban location.”

According to the joint EPA/DOJ press release, the federal complaint alleges that Fair Grounds violated the CWA, “including the terms and conditions of its Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. Specifically, the complaint alleges that since at least 2012, Fair Grounds has regularly discharged untreated process wastewater into the New Orleans municipal separate storm sewer system that leads to the London Avenue Canal, Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.”

According to the release, Fair Grounds’s permit prohibits any discharge unless there is a significant rain event (i.e., when 10 inches of rain falls in 24 hours).

“In violation of their permit, Fair Grounds has discharged wastewater after as little as a half-inch of rain, as well as in dry weather,” the EPA/DOJ release stated. “The complaint alleges that unauthorized discharges of contaminated wastewater occurred more than 250 times between 2012 and 2018. The untreated wastewater contains manure, urine, horse wash water, and other biological materials that are ‘pollutants’ as defined by the CWA, the facility’s permit, and the applicable EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality regulations.”

The release stated that the consent decree “includes a provision requiring Fair Grounds to implement additional remedial measures if these measures do not successfully eliminate unauthorized discharges.”

The settlement was lodged Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and is subject to a 30-day public comment period. The penalty is due within 30 days of the effective date of the consent decree, the release stated.

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