Six Baltimore residents financed by an environmental group sued the owner of Baltimore's yet-to-be-built casino, the city and the state, alleging that they colluded to skirt rules governing the study and cleanup of "highly contaminated properties" near their neighborhood.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, seeks an injunction to delay the issuing of building permits for the Horseshoe Casino until further study of the land and public discussion of a proposal for making it safe are completed.
Lawyers for the defendants had not reviewed the filing as of Wednesday evening and declined to comment. Chad Barnhill, the general manager for Horseshoe, also had not seen the lawsuit.
"What I can say is that we've done everything according to what the state has told us to do," Barnhill said. "We're doing everything we can to make sure it is safe for everyone."
The Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation conceived the lawsuit and is paying for it, according to its counsel, William B. Canfield III, because the residents lacked the resources or the political clout to influence the city or state. He said the foundation, which formed last year and has donated $10,000 to local groups, is the work of an anonymous donor interested in cleaning up and revitalizing industrial cities.
The plaintiffs named in the complaint are residents of the Westport neighborhood, which sits along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River south of where the casino is to be built.
Ruth Sherrill, president of the Westport Improvement Association, said residents have dealt with health problems caused by toxins left in the soil and water by factories that once dominated the area, and don't want to risk being exposed to more.
"They've done studies that showed there are contaminants," said Merab Rice, one of the plaintiffs. "I've got kids, and I don't want them being exposed to that. They need to talk to us about what they're doing. We're humans. Don't blindside us."
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants have failed to conduct necessary testing and go through required public discussions of their cleanup plans, relying instead on dated information gathered when the city-owned plot between Russell Street and the water was to be used for other developments several years ago.
The lawsuit also accuses the Caesars Entertainment-led coalition building the casino of adjusting a previously approved plan for cleaning up the site to make the work cheaper — and therefore less effective — and the Maryland Department of the Environment of failing to enforce its rules covering the remediation of contaminated areas.
Caesars plans to begin construction in the coming weeks, in hopes of opening by the middle of next year. The city's Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel is conducting its final review of the casino's design at a hearing Thursday afternoon.