Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lawsuit: Horseshoe Casino construction violates Clean Water Act

Two state residents who fear a planned casino in Baltimore will pollute the Patapsco River have filed a lawsuit against the city.

The suit says construction of Horseshoe Baltimore will release pollutants already in the soil at the Russell Street site into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, violating the federal Clean Water Act, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

“The law expressly prohibits the discharge of pollution to groundwater and to the river and [the Maryland Department of the Environment] is not doing anything about it,” the city is not doing anything about it,” said the residents’ attorney, G. Macy Nelson of The Law Office of G. Macy Nelson LLC in Towson. “We are trying to force a clean-up. The moment they clean the site up, we walk away.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office said Wednesday that legal actions concerning the casino development are “funded by anonymous shadow interests” by plaintiffs who do not live close to the property.

“These suits are not motivated by concern for the environment, but rather by a desire to avoid the will of the voters and block the casino that will create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars for property tax relief,” Ryan O’Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, wrote in an email.

At least some of the litigation is being funded by a private environmental group, the Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, whose membership has not been disclosed.

In the federal action filed this week, Edward J. Myers, a city resident who lives near the river, and Mark E. Richardson, a Glen Burnie resident who works on the river and has a boat there, are suing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the city council.

The $400 million casino, which is being developed by Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp., broke ground in late May. City officials are prioritizing the casino in the hopes that it is a boon for city jobs and revenue.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has previously said the soil at the site, which is the former location of the Maryland Chemical Co., contains arsenic, chromium and tetrachloroethylene. A spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

MDE “is monitoring this development to ensure that all environmental laws and protections are complied with and that the voluntary cleanup plan approved by the state is fully implemented,” O’Doherty said in an email.

According to the complaint dated Tuesday and posted online Wednesday, groundwater flows through permeable soil at the site, polluting the water before it flows through the residents’ properties and into the river.

Nelson filed a notice with the city on April 19 to inform officials of the intent to file the federal lawsuit.

Deputy Solicitor David E. Ralph and Rawlings-Blake’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday.

A 335,000-square foot casino and 4,000-space parking garage are slated to open in 2014. In May, city officials granted a zoning variance to allow an outdoor entertainment space at the site.

Dave Curley, a spokesman for CBAC Gaming LLC, the local group led by Caesars that is licensed to run the Baltimore casino, declined to comment on ongoing litigation and the status of the construction, saying only, “the development has been proceeding as planned since the recent groundbreaking ceremony.”

A polluted history

According to the lawsuit, Maryland Chemical Co. stored and sold chemicals on the site from 1904 to 2009 and American Cyanamid has manufactured pesticides there.

As a result, the plaintiffs say, arsenic, chromium, iron, lead, petroleum hydrocarbons and other toxins linger in the soil, stretching from the surface to more than 12 feet deep.

As the water flows southeast, it carries pollutants along the exteriors of storm drainage pipes into the river. The residents also say water leaks into the pipes through gaps and cracks.

The complaint alleges that the city is discharging pollutants into the river without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

Myers and Richardson are seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop construction, an order that the city pay 10 cents for each day it violated the Clean Water Act, and an award of one dollar in costs to the residents.

Under the Clean Water Act, they could claim civil penalties of up to $37,500 per violation since Jan. 13, 2009, and $32,500 per violation before that date.

“Even though the federal statute gives us the authority to seek fees and expenses, we are not,” Nelson said. “We want it to stop. We are not interested in money.”

Other lawsuits

Several other lawsuits over the environmental impact of the casino are pending.

Nelson filed a different lawsuit on behalf of Michael J. Finck and a few other city residents in Baltimore City Circuit Court on May 20.

Another group of residents, represented by Timothy R. Henderson of Rich & Henderson P.C. in Annapolis, filed suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court on suit Feb. 20 against the Maryland Department of the Environment, the city and CBAC Gaming.

That lawsuit alleges that MDE did not direct CBAC Gaming to halt construction while feedback was collected from the public and changes were made to the response action plan.

The suit also alleges that MDE did not study groundwater contaminants and did not require sampling of the movement of pollutants in the soil, Henderson said.

The parties in the case are waiting for the judge to respond to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, Henderson said.

He also has also filed two notices of intent to sue in federal court.

One letter, giving a 60-day notice, alleges the casino construction violates hazardous waste regulations.

“The movement of contaminated dirt and neglect of it has turned the property into a treatment storage and disposal activity,” Henderson said.

The 60-day notice period ended on July 2, and Henderson and his team are still discussing their next move.

“We could file a lawsuit any time,” Henderson said.

Henderson also filed a 90-day notice alleging the movement of the pollutants through the groundwater into adjacent properties and the river pose a threat to human health and the value of natural resources. That notice would allow him to file suit after Aug. 1.