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Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company, LLC, Clean Water Act Settlement

WASHINGTON (September 29, 2020) — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice announced a settlement with the Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company LLC, d/b/a Fair Grounds Corporation (Fair Grounds) that will resolve years of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at its New Orleans racetrack. Under the settlement, Fair Grounds will eliminate unauthorized discharges of manure, urine and process wastewater through operational changes and construction projects at an estimated cost of $5,600,000. The company also will pay a civil penalty of $2,790,000, the largest ever paid by a concentrated animal feeding operation in a CWA matter.

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Overview of Company

Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company, LLC, d/b/a Fair Grounds Corporation (Fair Grounds) is a horse racing facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. The facility is one of Louisiana’s oldest commercial horse racetracks and is located in an area surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The facility is a large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) because it stables or confines more than 500 horses for at least 45 days a year. During a typical horse racing season, Fair Grounds stables as many as 1,800 horses or more at one time. The facility includes a 38.8-acre production area that includes stables, horse stall barns and receiving barns, horse wash racks, horse walkways, horse walkers, manure storage areas, and storage areas for raw materials. The facility also includes a one-mile dirt racetrack and a 7/8-mile turf racetrack, the infield area, the grandstand, the casino, and associated parking areas.

Fair Grounds was purchased by Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI) in 2004. CDI is a Kentucky entity that operates a number of racetracks, casinos, and other gaming and entertainment entities in eleven states.

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The United States’ complaint alleges that Fair Grounds violated the Clean Water Act (CWA), including the terms and conditions of its Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (LPDES) permit issued pursuant to Section 402 of the CWA. Specifically, the complaint alleges that, since at least 2012, Fair Grounds has regularly discharged untreated process wastewater into the New Orleans municipal separate storm sewer system (including the London Avenue Canal that is used for fishing), which then leads to Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. Fair Grounds is permitted to discharge into the storm sewer system in significant rain events (i.e., when 10 inches of rain falls in 24 hours). However, unauthorized discharges have occurred during rain events as small as a half-inch of rain falling over 24 hours, as well as in dry weather, and would have continued to occur without this settlement. The complaint alleges that unauthorized discharges of horse wash water and other contaminated wastewater occurred more than 250 times between 2012 and 2018. The untreated process wastewater from the facility contains manure, urine, horse wash water, and other biological materials that are “pollutants” as defined by the CWA, the facility’s permit, and the applicable EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) regulations.

The complaint also alleges that Fair Grounds violated several other permit conditions, such as failure to comply with its Nutrient Management Plan, failure to submit discharge monitoring reports on time, failure to report discharges in annual reports, and failure to include all appropriate monitoring and reporting data for fecal coliform in quarterly reports.

In addition, this case is part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative for Reducing Significant Noncompliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permits.

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Injunctive Relief

As part of the settlement, Fair Grounds will implement best management practices and construction projects designed to eliminate unauthorized discharges and ensure compliance with its permit and the CWA. Fair Grounds will also perform site-specific sampling, monitoring and hydraulic modeling to help the company and EPA determine whether the remedial actions required by the consent decree are successful in eliminating unauthorized discharges. Furthermore, the proposed consent decree includes a provision requiring Fair Grounds to implement additional remedial measures if these measures do not successfully eliminate unauthorized discharges.

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Pollutant Impacts

Pollutants associated with the discharges from this facility include nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), pathogens (bacteria), and organic enrichment (low dissolved oxygen), all of which contribute to water quality impairment in U.S. waters. Other potential environmental and human health risks include transmission of disease-causing bacteria and parasites associated with food and waterborne diseases, fish advisories, and algal blooms.

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

The objective of the proposed CD is to eliminate the discharge of process wastewater to the New Orleans municipal separate storm sewer system, which ultimately leads to Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the settlement, Fair Grounds’ unauthorized discharges will no longer enter nearby waters, thereby benefitting the New Orleans’ residents and the surrounding communities.

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Civil Penalty

Fair Grounds will be required to pay a civil penalty of $2,790,000 within 30 days of the effective date of the CD.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana,  is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting a comment is available at the Department of Justice.

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For more information, contacts:

Kristin Buterbaugh, Attorney-Adviser
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-4479

Ellen Chang-Vaughan, Assistant Regional Counsel
Office of Regional Counsel
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6
1201 Elm Street, Suite 500
Dallas, Texas 75270
(214) 665-7328

Abu Senkayi, CAFO Enforcement Coordinator
Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division (ECD-WA)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6
1201 Elm Street, Suite 500
Dallas, Texas 75270
(214) 665-8430

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