Commission postpones talk on Allegany track

Citizens: Insufficient water in proposed W. Md. area

January 26, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Racing Commission yesterday heard at length from Allegany residents who oppose the site of a proposed Western Maryland racetrack and canceled a public hearing that had been scheduled today.

The group, "Citizens Against the Race Track," testified on the second of what was to have been three days of hearings. The commission decided to postpone the next session "to an uncertain date," said chairman John Franzone after the panel heard testimony from several key witnesses in Timonium.

Franzone said the decision to reschedule the hearing grew out of the commission's desire to hear the arguments of attorneys John McDonogh, who represents the challenging Maryland Jockey Club and Rosecroft Raceway, and Robert Paye, counsel for applicant William Rickman, Jr., during the same session, rather than separately.

Yesterday's meeting was devoted primarily to the issue of sufficient water at the 140-acre Little Orleans site purchased by Rickman for the track, and approved for that purpose by the Allegany County zoning board.

The sticking point, according to the citizens' group, was that the zoning board gave its approval based on a submission by James Eby, a hydrologist employed by Rickman, and refused to hear subsequent evidence compiled by the group that refuted Eby's findings.

"Basically, the evidence they submitted is quite misleading," maintained William Valentine, a plumber acting as spokesmen for the citizens. "And the zoning board decided in 15 minutes. Their entire survey setting was a library. They never took a shovel of dirt out of the grid in Little Orleans. The information doesn't agree with Allegany County's."

Valentine went on cite the shortage of rainfall in the area and to complain that the Rickman survey was introduced to the board without any grid information. He said county documents show that "there is not one well within the grid" purchased for the track.

He contended that wells in the area have been going dry simply from usage of the 31 homes in the area and that "if you take 50,000 gallons a day out of that ground to support a racetrack," there won't be enough water.

"I purchased it because of the water feature [a pond] in the middle of it," Rickman said. "I feel we can do it with storm water management, by recapturing the water on the site."

Rickman, owner of Delaware Park racetrack, formed Allegany Racing LLC to make his bid for the new track as well as to apply for supporting off-track-betting parlors (OTB). Rickman, a Rockville developer, estimated the construction would cost $7.7 million.

The Maryland Jockey Club dropped a competing bid to build a Western Maryland track last month, saying OTBs in the region made more sense economically.

The attorneys had the opportunity to cross examine certified public accountant Craig Gegorec, who reiterated his belief that "Cecil County would not support a second off-track betting site" as originally proposed by the Rickman group. He also offered financial projections on a variety of subjects.

Impatient at one point, Franzone interjected: "I don't want to spend the whole morning trying to determine how many hot dogs Mr. Rickman is going to sell."

Also testifying was engineer William Morris of Herry International, who made a cost analysis of the proposed project. He supported Gegorec's testimony during Wednesday's hearing that Allegany Racing made financial projections "way below the probable cost" of building the facility.

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