To the editor:
First, I want to thank Sen. Hinds for removing his name from Senate Bill 101.
My wife and I have lived in the Berkshires for most of our lives. We were happy to see horse racing abandoned in Great Barrington and all of the other “fair” tracks long ago. Now, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse plans to bring horse racing back to the Barrington Fairgrounds through strong-arm legislation. The bills, S.101 and H.13, include language designed to bypass Great Barrington’s right to vote whether horse racing be resurrected. The very notion of horse racing returning to Great Barrington, especially given the enormous environmental red flags, is alarming.
SSR has demonstrated that it is not a good neighbor. While operating in the Boston area, the company allowed a variety of pollutants, including runoff from the dead horses, manure, urine and bedding, to enter Boston’s local waters. As a result, SSR was forced to spend close to $5 million in fines and remediation efforts. According to the EPA, the types of animal waste pollutants discharged by SSR threaten human health and the environment. At a minimum, these pollutants contribute to algae growth, which can decrease oxygen levels, harm water-dwelling creatures, and transmit disease to humans via bacteria and parasites.
Most of the Fairgrounds lies within the Housatonic River floodplain and is above aquifers that feed several public water supplies, including the Sheffield Water Company. Under the best of circumstances, racetracks produce extensive waste, including animal and veterinary medical waste. They also consume vast amounts of water.
If you are as concerned as I am about this development, please urge the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, where the pending bills reside, to ensure that the citizens of the town be able to vote whether to allow horse racing activities in the delicate ecosystem of the Great Barrington Fairgrounds. The telephone number for the Senate is (617) 722-1222 and for the House, the number is (617) 722-2014. Additionally, please urge the Great Barrington Selectboard to vote for a home rule petition that ensures that its citizens can actually vote — not merely express opinions on permits — prior to any license application, whether horse racing returns to their community.