WEEK IN REVIEW : Federal prosecutors charge Aqueduct Racetrack with Clean Water Act violations

By LOUIS FLORES

Updated 03 October 2016 10:15 ⎪ Federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district on Friday filed a Complaint against The New York Racing Association, Inc., the operator of Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, Queens, of allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.

The Complaint alleges Aqueduct Racetrack discharged polluted water into the City's and the State's storm sewer systems.

A summary of the details about the allegations and information about the filing of the Complaint were contained in a press release published online by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The concentration of horses as a notable factor

According to the press release, "In 2013 and 2014 alone, NYRA generated and discharged an estimated 1.26 million gallons per year of polluted wastewater to storm sewer systems.  The discharges from Aqueduct ultimately flowed to the Hawtree and Bergen Basins, tributaries located within the eastern portion of Jamaica Bay, a navigable water of the United States.  Eastern Jamaica Bay and associated tributaries are currently designated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as impaired due to ammonia, nitrogen, oil/grease, and pathogens."

Aqueduct Racetrack indicated in a Government filing that it intended to keep a maximum of 532 horses at the site, according to the Complaint, but Federal prosecutors noted that only up to 450 horses were housed on-site during horse racing season. Nonetheless, for purposes of the Complaint, Federal prosecutors indicated that Aqueduct Racetrack "qualifies, or qualified at a time relevant to this Complaint" as a "concentrated animal feeding operation" under the Clean Water Act.

Federal prosecutors have offered to enter into a Consent Decree with the operator of Aqueduct Racetrack to resolve the Complaint. Prosecutors are allowing for a thirty (30) day comment period in response to the Consent Decree.

Progress Queens has published online copes of the Complaint, the contemplated Consent Decree, and a related notice of filing.

The Consent Decree calls for the operator of Aqueduct Racetrack to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and to commit to interim compliance measures, principally, to cease the discharge of polluted water into the City's storm drains. The operator of Aqueduct Racetrack will also commit to long-term compliance measures, including developing and submitting for approval a wastewater elimination plan that will provide, in part, "[p]rocedures and enforcement protocols to prevent the discharge of process wastewater into the 60 storm drains adjacent to the barns," according to the contemplated Consent Decree.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Zwany is in charge of the litigation on behalf of the Brooklyn Federal prosecutors' office, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Zwany is receiving assistance from various officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, according to the press release.

The leadership being demonstrated by the Federal prosecutors' office in Brooklyn comes at a time when other issues with New York City's water has come to the fore.

As reported by Progress Queens, a law firm is taking steps that may include filing a lawsuit against officials at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and others, over alleged discrimination and retaliation against City employees, who have blown the whistle on alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. Furthermore, a new report published by Progress Queens has raised questions about an upward trend in the rate by which drinking water samples have tested positive for lead above a key threshold set by the EPA.

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