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Belmont Park has not had mandatory fire inspection

Jockey Kent Desormeaux celebrates aboard Summer Bird after

Jockey Kent Desormeaux celebrates aboard Summer Bird after winning the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park. (June 6, 2009) Credit: AP

The New York Racing Association has not completed a mandatory fire inspection of Belmont Park, which is already open for the season and will host the Belmont Stakes in two weeks, state racing officials said.

The racetrack's grandstands, other buildings and emergency equipment have been inspected annually by Nassau County in the past. Under county regulations, this year's inspection was due to be conducted by April 22. The park opened for the season April 30.

NYRA and a state agency, the Office of General Services, are discussing ways to complete fire safety inspections, according to representatives for two state agencies. An OGS spokeswoman confirmed the discussions but said no agreement has been reached and could not say when the inspection would be done.

Without proof of a fire inspection, NYRA could be ticketed up to $5,000 by the Nassau County fire marshal for each of the park's buildings, according to county code. The fire marshal's office typically inspects about 70 employee cottages and 80 barns, said John Priest, the fire marshal's industrial division supervisor.

Priest said county fire officials would act with prudence, but with no proof of an inspection, "We may have no choice but to take enforcement action."

Without the inspection, NYRA also cannot receive a crucial license from the state Racing and Wagering Board to broadcast Belmont events at other parks, board spokesman Joe Mahoney said. "We're optimistic that this will be resolved," he said.

The Nassau fire marshal usually handles the inspections. Each year, inspectors examine Belmont Park's grandstands, other buildings and emergency equipment. Last year's check found only one problem - an emergency light that needed to be fixed, Priest said.

But on May 7, NYRA's legal counsel told the fire marshal's office that it would not be asked to do the inspection. A letter from the legal counsel says General Services is the "sole permitting entity" for Belmont Park.

A NYRA spokesman did not respond to questions about why it changed its policy this year. Last year, NYRA paid the fire marshal's office about $25,000 to conduct the inspection, Priest said.

Office of General Services spokeswoman Heather Groll said any contract between NYRA and the office would need the approval of the state attorney general and comptroller. "Until the contract is done, we can't get into details about it," Groll said.

Gabe Roth, a spokesman for the New York Department of State, said the Office of General Services could choose to have county officials do the inspection or choose another certified person.

Priest says the fire marshal will accept an inspection from any authority certified to make fire inspections.

"Representatives of the state would be fine," he said. "We want to make sure these inspections are done."

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