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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Yonkers Raceway, state reach sewage settlement

THE JOURNAL NEWS - October 13, 2006

YONKERS - A day after it opened its lucrative video lottery casino, Yonkers Raceway yesterday agreed to a $9 million settlement following a state probe that revealed it discharged raw human and animal waste into the Bronx River.

Under the agreement reached Oct. 6 among Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the track, raceway officials agreed to stop the ongoing pollution and take a number of steps intended to help clean up the river.

An investigation by Spitzer's office found the track's executive suite, grooms quarters, veterinarian building and blacksmith shops connect directly to the city's storm sewer - intended to discharge runoff caused by rain and melting snow - instead of its sanitary sewer.

Horse manure also has been routinely flushed into storm sewers, which flow into the river.

A Spitzer spokesman said the track agreed to hold off announcing the settlement until after Empire City Gaming at Yonkers Raceway, the track's half-finished, $240 million video lottery casino, opened Wednesday. The state Division of Lottery expects to generate $400 million a year for education through the casino.

"From our perspective, it really didn't make a difference," said Marc Violette, the Spitzer spokesman. "We're more concerned with the result."

Track officials, in a press release issued through spokesman John Cirillo, said they "strongly disagreed" with the factual findings in the settlement. They concluded, however, that the agreement was a "fair compromise."

"The Raceway ... believed it was in the best interest of all parties, particularly the children of New York State who are the biggest beneficiary of the (video lottery) program, to promptly resolve this matter to ensure the environmental protection of the Bronx River and the generation of funds for education in New York via the (video lottery) operation," the statement read.

Between April and August of this year, investigators from the Attorney General's Office measured fecal coliform bacteria concentrations of between 1,162 and 8,615 per 100 milliliters of water in the river south of the Raybrook Road outfall near the Yonkers-Bronx border, according to the agreement. Fewer than 200 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters is considered acceptable.

Exposure to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in water can cause gastrointestinal illness, hepatitis, skin and eye infections and can damage fish and wildlife habitats.

The settlement requires the track to immediately cease all discharges of waste into the river, which probably occurred for decades. It also calls for the raceway to pay $6 million toward storm water pollution reduction projects, $2 million in penalties to the state and $1 million to the Beczak Environmental Education Center in Yonkers.

Spitzer, who is the Democratic nominee for governor and front-runner in the race to succeed Republican George Pataki as governor, has pursued cases against three other polluters of the Bronx River.

The Bronx Zoo and Bronx Botanical Gardens have fully implemented remediation measures mandated by the state. The city of Yonkers in August was ordered by a state Supreme Court justice to pay $1 million in fines for failing to act fast enough in addressing discharge of raw sewage into the river.

City officials argue they are trying to find and correct illegal hookups of sanitary sewer lines to storm sewers, which have caused the pollution. 

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