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Residents fear ground contamination on casino site

MDE has no plans for additional public meetings on existing plans

State environmental officials have pledged to consider comments made during a public meeting Thursday about a plan to construct the $400 million Horseshoe Casino on a former industrial site near M&T Stadium.

Ground has been broken on the Horseshoe Casino site in south Baltimore. (Josh Cooper/The Daily Record)

Following a two-hour meeting on two “response action plans” compiled in 2011 and 2012 by the Baltimore Development Corp. and CBAC Gaming officials, owners of the city casino, Maryland Department of the Environment official Richelle Hanson said community-based fears ranging from toxic stormwater runoff and removal of toxic construction dust and debris would be addressed if needed.

Further public comments will be accepted by the department through April 23.

The controversy stems from questions over past industrial use at the nearly 12-acre site off Russell Street where construction on the casino began this week. A lawsuit was filed by residents of nearby Westport in February over worries about toxins remaining in the soil there from a pesticide and chemical plant at the site from the 1890s through the early 1900s.

That lawsuit resulted in a temporary restraining order that was lifted by a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge on March 14. The residents have filed an appeal with the Court of Special Appeals and in city circuit court, while the MDE has filed a motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit.

“I think it is clear from our perspective that several things pointed out last night show that the state had not considered when it compiled the response action plan,” said Tony Gorski, an attorney for the residents, whose questions were cut off by MDE officials at 8 p.m. when they ended the meeting.

“The questions include ground water data from the early 2000s which show a substantial amount of TCE and PCE [chemical pollutants] underground. We don’t believe there’s been adequate consideration at this point,” Gorski said.

Construction at the casino site began this week.

Gorski said such work was premature while public comments were still being accepted by MDE.

“It’s a farce,” he said. “They are making a mockery of the public comment process.”

A MDE spokeswoman said Friday the department would actively consider the comments.

“If changes to the Response Action Plan for the (site) are warranted, the department will direct the participant to amend the RAP,” Samantha Kappalman wrote in an email Friday. “At this time, there are no plans for a third public meeting for the Response Action Plan. There will, however, be upcoming public meetings in relation to other applicable permits for the property.”