The New York Racing Association has agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty and implement new procedures to halt the dumping of polluted wastewater at Aqueduct Racetrack into nearby public storm sewer systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced Sept. 30.
"Over a million gallons of polluted wastewater has been released every year from the Aqueduct Racetrack into Jamaica Bay, including animal wash water and detergent and feed waste," said EPA regional administrator Judith Enck. "It is imperative that the New York Racing Association comply with the federal Clean Water Act."
The EPA and U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said both a complaint had been filed Sept. 30 as well as the lodging of a consent decree with NYRA to resolve the pollution problems federal officials found at the track.
Officials from NYRA, run by state government under an oversight control board created in 2012 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said they took action against the pollution discharges soon after being notified of the problem by the EPA in the summer of 2015.
"NYRA is pleased to have worked with the EPA to obtain a satisfactory resolution of the matter and remains committed to improving the environment in and around each of its racetracks,'' said NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna.
NYRA said it has completed the improvements to prevent further polluted water dumping, including construction of new wash pads in barns that send runoff into the New York City sanitary sewer system.
Federal officials say Aqueduct houses 450 horses during racing season and that in 2013 and 2014 about 1.26 million gallons of polluted water flowed each year from the track into the eastern portion of Jamaica Bay.
The settlement announced by the EPA and federal prosecutor includes designation of a NYRA staff member to ensure no pollution discharges occur, installation of monitoring equipment, and weekly inspections. NYRA is also to report on its compliance and procedures to implement the consent decree on a public web site.
NYRA also agreed to plant 62 trees at Belmont Racetrack to help capture storm water runoff and better allow storm water to evaporate before reaching the ground.
Federal officials said Aqueduct is a designated concentrated animal feeding operation, which are sites where animals are kept in confined areas for a certain number of days in a year and feed is brought onto the property. Officials say such sites can generate large amounts of animal waste that can flow into waters that raise pollution levels, kill fish, and increase chances for disease-causing bacteria.
The filing of the civil action also includes a 30-day public comment period prior to the federal government deciding whether to enter the consent decree announced Friday.
In a written statement McKenna said NYRA "worked quickly and in coordination with the EPA to remedy the problem" identified by the federal agency. "This work is now completed and we are implementing all necessary steps to prevent any future discharges."