Suffolk Downs, fined by EPA in 2012, says it will bring best practices to Great Barrington

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A company planning to move its thoroughbred horse racing operation here was fined in 2012 by the federal government for discharging horse waste into a nearby creek in violation of the Clean Water Act.

But a racetrack official said the company had fixed the problems, and plans to bring its experience to Great Barrington to ensure that the town's waterways stay clean.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which owns the now-closed Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston and Revere, had agreed to a $5 million consent decree that included a $1.25 million fine.

Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs' chief operating officer, said the settlement reached with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice had helped the company understand how to protect the ecology in and around the Fairgrounds property, which sits next to the Housatonic River.

"We have considerable experience with that," Tuttle said, noting that pollution from stormwater runoff had existed for years before the company arrived at that location in 2007. The track initially opened in 1935. "We unfortunately inherited years and years of environmental conditions."

And Tuttle said the company has resolved the problem with measures that include covered storage and removal of waste on a regular basis.

Sterling Suffolk has entered into a long-term lease with Fairgrounds owners after its former home was purchased in 2017 by a developer. The company intends to hold live racing several weekends in the fall, beginning in 2020.

But as the company's plans take shape and it moves closer to potential local and state approval, questions are being raised about the potential impact of the business on the town.

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As part of its agreement with the government, the company had to spend more than $3 million to stop and divert polluted runoff, and spent $742,000 to monitor water quality for over 123 square miles of watershed around Boston, according to the EPA.

That 161-acre property had 32 stable buildings that held 500 or more horses for at least 45 days annually, as well as dead animal holding areas. It was considered a "large concentrated animal feeding operation."

The violations stem from improper discharge, without a permit, of urine, manure and bedding materials.

Sterling Suffolk's plans do not include long-term boarding of horses in Great Barrington.

The work Tuttle refers to includes the construction of a roof runoff diversion system in the stable area that separates clean water from the contaminated runoff and reduces wastewater volume. The company also installed sewage pipes to send the wastewater into the local sewer or to use it for irrigation of the track.

Tuttle said the company would take its environmental wherewithal to the Fairgrounds.

"We'd certainly bring the same best practices to Great Barrington," he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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