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Del Mar Fairgrounds
The Del Mar Summer Season runs through Labor Day. File photo
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Del Mar Horsepark environmental compliance linked to financial woes

DEL MAR — The Del Mar Fairgrounds board will further discuss whether and how to make capital improvements necessary to continue horse shows and boarding at its Horsepark Equestrian Facility, in compliance with environmental law, at its Jan. 12 meeting.

“The continuation of equestrian events would require environmental protection improvements to handle water runoff due to the proximity to the San Dieguito River,” spokeswoman Jennifer Hellman told The Coast News.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association announced last month it would discontinue shows and boarding of horses at its Horsepark arenas and stables through 2021. The board needs “to further evaluate the necessary investment required to meet water quality requirements,” according to a statement.

The Horsepark currently has the blessing of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency, to conduct activities from which animal manure runoff risks contaminating waterways and groundwater. The Fairgrounds is enrolled under a Water Board policy known as “Waiver No. 6 – Discharges from Animal Operations,” which sets forth requirements to mitigate such runoff — for example, measures to collect, store and dispose of manure off-site.

The Fairgrounds already implements such measures and has made some, though not all, related facility and infrastructure improvements.

“The facility and its operation continue to comply with the specific conditions and discharge specifications of Waiver No. 6,” the Water Board told The Coast News in a statement. “Specific waste handling practices (e.g., regular sweeping of elevated and covered stalls and pick up of manure, hay/straw; wash racks are plumbed to sewer and covered; storage areas are bermed) remain in place to ensure that stormwater runoff is not polluted.”

Additional capital improvements were originally scheduled through 2021, according to the Fairgrounds’ 2019 waiver application. Specifically, elevating manure storage bins on concrete pads would “provide secondary containment and minimize the possibility of pollutant infiltration into the ground.”

But capital improvements cost money, of which COVID, declining horseracing revenues and existing debt have put the Fairgrounds in short supply, as The Coast News recently reported.

The Fairgrounds informed the Water Board in May letter that it wouldn’t be able to meet its current capital upgrade schedule to stay in compliance and asked for a one-year extension.

According to the letter: “A large decline in [thoroughbred racing] attendance has resulted in the [Fairgrounds] obtaining only a small fraction of the revenues budgeted. This results in the need to re-prioritize which projects can and should be funded. This is also causing the [Fairgrounds] to re-evaluate the status of Horse Park as an equestrian facility for the long term.”

Revenues for the calendar year 2020 through October tanked to $17 million — $64 million under budget — for a net $9 million operating loss.

The annual Del Mar Horse Show — a three-week affair each spring, though it’s canceled for 2021 — “has not seen positive returns” for “the last couple of years,” Business Services Officer Katie Mueller told the board at their Nov. 10 meeting.

The Fairgrounds was unable by press time to supply financial information for horse shows in aggregate, but The Coast News expects to obtain such records for a subsequent article.

“If [the Fairgrounds] does not move forward with the proposed improvements [originally scheduled for 2021], then the likely path would be for them to submit a new [application] …, and at that time that application would be reviewed to ensure compliance,” the Water Board told The Coast News.

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