Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Casino foes appeal ruling

A group of city residents and environmental advocates have appealed a ruling by a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge that allowed preliminary construction work to resume on Baltimore’s new casino.

The appeal was filed Thursday afternoon with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, along with a motion in circuit court for a stay of the March 14 ruling by Judge Yolanda Tanner pending appeal.

Tanner’s ruling lifted a temporary restraining order she had granted three days earlier, which stopped permits and preliminary construction work at the $400 million Horseshoe Casino, expected to break ground this spring.

No court dates had been scheduled on the appeal or the motion as of Friday, said Anthony Gorski, an attorney for the plaintiffs, who are residents of Westport near the casino site.

The litigation is being funded by a newly formed environmental nonprofit, the Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation.

In addition, the residents filed a letter with Michael Braverman, deputy commissioner for code enforcement with the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, seeking to have several grading permits already granted for the casino site and an adjoining site for a 4,000-space parking garage either revoked or reviewed due to the pending litigation.

“The rush to get the casino built appears to be proceeding in a way that is sacrificing the best and potentially only opportunity to fully investigate and clean up the contamination at the property,” said Timothy Henderson, an Annapolis attorney also representing the plaintiffs.

A spokeswoman for the city housing department said Friday the letter had been received and was being considered by the city legal department. The spokeswoman, Cheron Porter, declined to comment further.

The residents in mid-February sought a restraining order on preliminary construction of the casino because they claimed the site, located off Russell Street near M&T Bank Stadium, was contaminated with industrial waste including arsenic.

They claimed that the Maryland Department of the Environment had not held a public information meeting on the environmental reports on the site, called a response action plan, performed by license applicant Baltimore City Entertainment Group. BCEG’s application was rejected in 2011, and the license was awarded last year to a group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp., operating as CBAC Gaming.

A spokesman for Caesars said Friday that he had not yet seen the court filings and therefore could not comment.

Samantha Kappalman, a spokeswoman for MDE, has said a public hearing took place in June 2011. On Friday, she said department officials would hold a second public information hearing on the environmental issues at the future casino site on April 11 at 6 p.m. at Montgomery Park in Southwest Baltimore.

“The restraining order expired, and the court declined to enter an injunction, and thus the work is allowed to go forward under the approved Response Action Plan,” Kappalman said, in an email.

William Canfield III, a Washington lawyer and general counsel to the Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, said Friday court intervention is crucial at this stage to help protect the Middle Branch River, which runs adjacent to the casino site and empties into the Chesapeake Bay, and the Gwynns Falls Trail.

“We are completely agnostic to the kind of development on Russell Street — they could put up a hospital or an elementary school,” Canfield said. “The only thing we care about is that the development has to occur with all compliance with federal and state rules, because the Middle Branch and the Inner Harbor will never be cleaned up unless somebody takes a stand. Local government, they care not one wit about the environment.”

The foundation is being funded in part by an unnamed wealthy Midwesterner, Canfield said. He described the donor as a conservative Republican who is dedicated to environmental protection because of his love for trout fishing.

Remediation of the Baltimore casino site, Canfield said, would also serve as a precedent to help post-industrial cities that include Gary, Ind., and Oakland, Calif., that are also located on large bodies of fresh water, to comply with strict state and federal environmental guidelines.