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Group offers to check park by planned city casino for pollution

Laws and LegislationJustice SystemGwynns Falls TrailInner HarborStephanie Rawlings-Blake

A Washington-based nonprofit group has offered to test for toxic contamination in city park land that borders a new casino being built in South Baltimore, but City Hall says it's not interested.

The Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, which bankrolled a lawsuit seeking to block work on the Horseshoe Casino until more cleanup is required on the site, wrote Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Monday saying that it would pay for testing of soil and ground water at Gwynns Falls Trail Park.

A chemical plant once operated on the casino property, and a variety of cancer-causing and toxic chemicals have been found in the soil and ground water there. The Maryland Department of the Environment has approved the plans of CBAC Gaming to cover the contaminated ground with clean dirt and concrete, and to install a system for venting any vapors from the ground that might enter the casino building.

No testing was done on Gwynns Falls Trail Park, a thin strip of land that separates the casino from the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. Timothy R. Henderson, a lawyer for the foundation, offered the nonprofit's services in checking for contamination on the city-owned land.

"It would either confirm that the casino property has not impacted that area of the park or that it has," Henderson wrote. "If it has, the appropriate investigation and cleanup should be conducted to protect the residents of Baltimore."

Ryan O'Doherty, Rawlings-Blake's spokesman, responded by email that the mayor is confident that state environmental regulators are handling contamination at the site properly. He criticized the foundation, calling it "a secret group led by Washington lobbyists" that is blocking a job-generating project endorsed by city voters.

The foundation, whose executive director and counsel are both Washington area residents, has declined to identify its principal funder. The group did not register as a Maryland charity, but its counsel said it did not have to because it is not actively soliciting funds in the state.

In a lawsuit funded by the foundation, several South Baltimore residents have argued that the state failed to give the public adequate time to review and comment on what they consider to be an inadequate plan for dealing with contamination on the casino site. But the group's lawyer could not persuade a Baltimore Circuit Court judge to grant a temporary injunction blocking casino work while its lawsuit is pending.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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