Meadows keeping pace with green ventures

December 9, 2012
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Dan Mangan, racing facilities manager at the North Strabane Township racetrack, shows cisterns where runoff water is stored for treatment of the track surface. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
A small shed is home to a laboratory that transforms leftover french fry oil from the Meadows Casino and creates biodiesel fuel. The oil creates 200 gallons of biodiesel a week and fuels most of the equipment on the racetrack property. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Horse manure is loaded into a truck to be taken to Creekside Mushrooms Ltd. farm in Worthington, Armstrong County, to create compost for the farm’s mushrooms. About 550 tons of manure is sent to the farm each month. Order a Print

The Meadows Racetrack & Casino is increasingly green thanks to some things that aren’t so pristine.

Fat from french fries, horse manure and runoff water are integral elements of green initiatives the racetrack has implemented.

The moves are environmentally friendly and cost-effective, a win-win at a place that specializes in win, place and show.

“If you would have told me years ago that I would be involved in something like this . . .” said Mike Jeannot, president of Meadows Racing, smiling as he stood outside a small building beyond the racing oval.

That hut is home for the biodiesel lab, said Dan Mangan, racing facilities manager at the North Strabane Township racetrack. The oil that had been used to make fries in Meadows kitchens is placed in a vat inside and converted into biodiesel fuel, which, he said, is used to operate “almost all equipment” on track property.

Mangan, a longtime employee from Peters Township, heats the vat of oil, tests it and mixes in potassium hydroxide and methanol. He then lets the solution sit for eight hours, “cleans” it and tests it for acidity.

The initiative is only a month old, but already yielding environmental and financial benefits.

There are three restaurants and a food court at the complex, which is open round-the-clock daily. That translates to a lot of french fries, and about 200 gallons of reusable oil each week.

“That’s roughly 10,000 gallons a year,” said Mangan, of Peters Township. “All from french fry fat.”

Savings should be formidable. Mangan said the conversion costs 70 to 75 cents a gallon and the charge for off-road diesel is about $3.49, about $2.75 a gallon less.

Horse manure, of course, is plentiful at the Meadows, and the source of a project that goes back to before Mangan was hired in 1990. The track stores a mix of manure and used straw in a large tent and, by contract, supplies the mix to Creekside Mushrooms Ltd. for use as compost.

Creekside Mushrooms, near Worthington in Armstrong County, is described at as “the world’s largest single site mushroom growing facility and the only underground mushroom farm in the United States.”

The farm pays the Meadows a nominal amount for the manure mix, receiving about 10 tractor-trailer loads per week, or 550 tons a month. “Creekside takes what it needs and sells the rest to other mushroom companies,” Mangan said, And the compost it does use is later used elsewhere.

This contract, Jeannot said, saves the track the large expense of removing the manure-hay mix and having it treated at a landfill.

Speaking of large expenses . . . about 40,000 gallons of water are needed on a typical summer day to control dust and “cushion” the limestone track for the hard-charging horses, A smaller volume is sufficient at other times – about 4,000 to 6,000 on a mild day last week. The track is used a lot – four days of racing year-round – creating a dusty, packed-down surface if not hydrated adequately.

“We always used fresh water because it was available,” said Jeannot, of Moon Township. “The cost and environmental reasons are why we decided to use runoff water.”

This is a new project that, pending the completion of some electrical work, may be implemented this week. The water comes from a tributary of Chartiers Creek, unnamed and snaking through the Meadows property. The state Department of Environmental Protection oversees the process, by which a pump in the tributary gathers the water, which is stored in three underground cisterns, then is moved to trucks that sprinkle the racing surface.

So Meadows racing is getting greener, gaining efficiency and reducing costs in an industry in which the financial overhead can be daunting. Jeannot is thankful that the other part of the operation, the casino, has been financially successful, providing the wherewithal to enable his end to pursue other projects.

“If the casino hadn’t been built,” he said, “we might really, really be hurting.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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