In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice imposed a civil penalty of $1.25 million dollars on Suffolk Downs racecourse to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act. The corporation was also required to spend more than $3 million to prevent polluted water from entering nearby waterways and had to perform three environmental projects worth approximately $742,000 that provided water quality monitoring and protection efforts of the watershed. The Great Barrington Fairgrounds property borders the Housatonic River and contains and borders designated wetlands. The majority of the fairgrounds’ 57.3-acres lie within the Housatonic River floodplain.
The current track is one-half mile long. Proposed efforts to enlarge the track could encroach on adjacent wetlands and would require strict review and oversight by the GB Conservation Commission. Based on historical documents at Berkshire Regional Planning, there may be hazardous waste on the property.
Regular maintenance of the racetrack, including watering and sealing the track, may increase flooding. It will be virtually impossible for the Conservation Commission to monitor and control these daily activities. The racetrack will require materials such as soil and sand to be added and removed on a regular or even daily basis, which could have implications for the river and wetlands. There is also a potential for contaminated runoff into the Housatonic.
According to documents related to an earlier MEPA review, the GBF is within water protection zones (“Zone II’s”) of several public water supplies, including that for the Sheffield Water Company. The presence of these protection sites requires that extraordinary care be taken to restrict uses such as horse racetracks with a higher potential to introduce contamination into the aquifer and also requires greater care in designing and maintaining the storm water management system on the site.
There will be intense usage of town water and sewer systems for the track and the horses, the thousands of attendees, horse owners, trainers, jockeys, and staff for highly concentrated bursts of time. The town may need to increase capacity of the waste water system to handle intensified use of water and sewage systems during the racing season.
Hay fed to the horses will likely introduce seed stock of invasive plant species into the protected wetlands. This could affect populations of the rare and endangered species of plant and aquatic animals that were found in a biological review of the property in 2006. Paving to create roads and parking areas, track sealing, and installation of fencing and guardrails will entail significant construction activities that will impact the unique ecological area that is the GBF site.