Racetrack Water Runoff Brings $500,000 Fine

By Associated Press

The former operators of the Portland Meadows racetrack have been fined $500,000 for allowing stormwater tainted with horse manure to reach the nearby Columbia Slough.

The civil penalty was issued July 29 by U.S. District Judge Garr M. King, after a three-day trial.

The Department of Justice brought the case on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's behalf against The New Portland Meadows Inc., which operated the track from 1991 to 2001.

Gene Ferryman, owner of The New Portland Meadows, said Thursday that the penalty would bankrupt the company. The company spent more than $500,000 on environmental studies and a barn to shelter the manure from storms, according to Judge King's order.

"We don't think (the penalty) is justified," said Ferryman, a businessman based in Vancouver, Wash. "We're not bandits. We did what we could do, and when they told us to jump, we jumped."

Ferryman said the company has not decided whether to appeal.

In his order, King concluded that the discharge from the company's operations did not significantly increase contamination in the slough, given other polluters' contributions.

But water samples indicated the risk generated by the runoff was significant, King said.

The judge said the owners were not diligent in following through with possible solutions, and the track was never in compliance during the 10 years the company operated it.

Randy Smith, director of the EPA's water quality office in Seattle, called the ruling a "milestone" in protecting water in the slough, a finger of the Columbia River that stretches a dozen miles through industrial areas of North and Northeast Portland.

Clean Water Act claims against the current operator of the track, Magna Entertainment Corp., Oregon, were resolved last year through a federal court consent decree. It obligated the defendants to pay a $100,000 civil penalty and make more than $1 million in wastewater improvements to the track, the EPA said.