Frostburg mayor demands study of track's water use


FROSTBURG - Western Marylanders' opposition to a new racetrack has been loud and furious, and here's the latest: Frostburg Mayor John N. Bambacus says he'll refuse to let a track use his city's reservoir unless developers can prove residents will have enough water for themselves.

"We don't have good data, and I'm not going to put this community at risk," Bambacus said, adding that Frostburg and surrounding communities have been stung by droughts the past three years.

"I'm going to err on the side of caution and refuse to provide the water," he said.

Maryland Jockey Club officials, who have applied to build an $8 million track just west of Frostburg, said the facility would take no more water from the city than a hotel or restaurant and disputed the need for the study.

The squabble is the latest in a political give-and-take over where to put a new track in Allegany County.

The Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico Race Course, is competing with Montgomery County developer William Rickman Jr. for a single license from the Maryland Racing Commission to build in the area. Rickman has proposed a site farther east.

Bambacus said he was irritated last month when the Jockey Club said it would not pay a consultant $28,000 to examine the local water system's capacity. "I don't need the study, and I can run the city of Frostburg without the study," the mayor said. "They need the study and they're going to pay for it."

Robert J. Di Pietro, the Jockey Club's executive vice president, said he plans to meet with Bambacus to discuss water usage. He said Bambacus was simply being "a good mayor" in trying to get an outside firm to pay for something the city needs.

"They haven't had a good study of the system for years," Di Pietro said. He said Jockey Club officials would be willing to fund a small portion of a study, but that expecting a single party to fund a citywide project was unfair. "We're only one user. It's just that we're the next guy asking for water."

Di Pietro said that if the city does end up refusing to provide water, track officials could use wells instead.

How much of the dispute is over water is unclear. Bambacus has been a critic of gambling and tried to argue before the county zoning board last month that a track could have adverse effects on the social well-being of residents.

After zoning officials said such views were irrelevant to a zoning decision, Bambacus focused on water concerns.

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