City says injunction for casino construction not warranted

Response to lawsuit says Westport group being used by group whose goal is to delay Horseshoe opening

March 13, 2013|By Chris Korman, The Baltimore Sun

Lawyers for Baltimore say a group of Westport residents seeking an injunction to stop construction of the Horseshoe Casino along Russell Street have no legal standing and are being used by a shadowy organization more concerned with delaying the facility opening than environmental factors.

In a response filed Tuesday, city solicitors Matthew W. Nayden and Daniel J. Sparaco dismissed the group's claim that the city and the Maryland Department of the Environment colluded to allow CBAC Gaming to avoid following protocol for publicly discussing and planning cleanup of the site. According to the city, state law allows for the environment department to transfer its approval of a Voluntary Cleanup Program designation for the site to the casino group, led by Caesars Entertainment. It had originally been granted to the Baltimore Development Corporation before the casino license was awarded.

The lawyers also contend Caesars was under no obligation to seek public comment on their revised response action plan, and refuted the original lawsuit's contention that the new plan represented a substantial change in the type and cost of the work to be done. Department of the Environment officials have also challenged that allegation.

The city also contends that an approved response action plan is not a prerequisite to begin construction. Crews began work on the site this week but were stopped by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Yolanda Tanner's temporary restraining order. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

The Westport residents' suit is being funded by the Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, a fledgling environmental group with an unnamed financier.

"Whomever is behind this fictive group, the motivation for this expensive litigation can hardly be to have one more 'informational meeting' about the voluntary cleanup of the casino site," Nayden and Sparaco wrote. "More likely these interests are served by derailing this complex, time-sensitive construction effort ..."

Timothy Henderson, an attorney for the opponents, said the source of the money that's paying for his firm to represent Westport residents is "irrelevant."

"We think they're valid interests," he said of the residents' concerns.

Henderson said the city is dismissive of the residents' concerns and that the state, city and CBAC Gaming are ignoring regulations regarding the cleanup of the environmentally contaminated site.

"Procedures that would have been applied to any other applicants weren't applied to CABC," he said.

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