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Judge throws out motion blocking construction of city casino

By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

7:28 PM EDT, March 14, 2013

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Construction can proceed on a casino planned for Baltimore after a Circuit Court judge threw out on Thursday an attempt by opponents to halt the development.

A group of environmental advocates and neighborhood residents filed suit last month to delay the issuing of building permits for the planned Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, alleging the city and state improperly approved an inadequate cleanup of industrial contamination at the site near Westport.

Earlier this week, another judge approved a temporary order blocking construction when attorneys representing the neighborhood said work had begun on the site despite the lawsuit.

The case is continuing, but the judge's denial of the motion to block construction was considered a significant setback for the plaintiffs by all involved. Anthony Gorski, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he is unsure whether they will appeal the judge's ruling.

Ruth Sherrill, president of the Westport Improvement Association and the lead plaintiff, said she does not oppose the casino itself, but worries about her and her neighbors' health when soil, contaminated by decades of industrial activity, is stirred up by construction. Sherrill also said she fears the contaminated soil will be dumped elsewhere in her neighborhood.

She also said city and casino officials have been lax in informing residents about the project's progress and potential impact on health and traffic.

"I don't mind the casino being in this community," Sherrill said. "I just want to know what effect it's going to have on the community when it's built."

The residents are backed by a nonprofit group named the Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, which is funded by an anonymous donor. Their suit against the city, Maryland Department of the Environment and developer CBAC Gaming contended that the defendants skirted regulations regarding cleanup of the site, which has been designated by the state as contaminated.

The defendants argued that they had gone through the necessary process for building approvals several years ago for a separate project that never got off the ground, and that those approvals would transfer to the planned Horseshoe project. The judge apparently agreed.

Caesars Entertainment, the casino operator behind the project, plans to begin construction in the next few weeks and to open the casino next summer.

Dave Curley, a spokesman for CBAC Gaming, said in a statement Thursday: "We are pleased the court agreed with our position on this matter and look forward to proceeding with the development of a world-class casino in Baltimore."

Deputy City Solicitor David Ralph said the city believes the plaintiffs' "real desire" was to stop or delay construction.

"This is a significant victory for the taxpayers of the state that voted for this in referendum, for the citizens of Baltimore that are going to benefit from this," he said.

cwells@baltsun.com