And at Mayor Roscoe Warren Park, a park built atop a reclaimed landfill in Homestead, the town failed to submit to DERM documentation of the remediation work and ignored follow-up requests by the agency for four years.
Those issues, some of which were first reported in Miami New Times, underscore another fact: Because contaminated soil and waste remain in the ground after remediation, periodic inspections, monitoring and management and maintenance plans are essential so that integrity of the work is maintained.
But DERMs ability to get other government agencies to comply with its orders is limited. Even though the county could sue, it has been loath to do so, preferring to work cooperatively.
Miami officials, however, essentially blew off DERM demands for action in several cases, including the contamination findings at the Old Smokey site, today the site of a fire-training facility. The site is in the heart of the historic black neighborhood known as the West Grove, between Armbrister Park, where kids play, and the Barnyard, a community center for children.
The city did not follow up on the results for two years, until University of Miami law students and faculty researching an unrelated lawsuit stumbled across the soil test reports. That led DERM to the wider testing that uncovered contamination at Blanche and Merrie Christmas parks in Coconut Grove.
But UM law professor Anthony Alfieri, whose students uncovered the test results, says Miami officials have ignored and buried findings of contamination in its parks, and the county has been remiss in not cracking down on the city for its failure to take action.
Alfieri said he welcomes DERM efforts to test more systematically, but says the history of contamination at park sites warrants a far more aggressive effort, including health evaluations of residents who may have been exposed to toxic soil, water and air for decades.
Neither the city nor the county have demonstrated theyre credible, competent or committed to taking the actions needed, Alfieri said. They are always a step behind and always less than candid about their findings.
One of themes of this investigation for us is that neither the city or the county are likely to know where all of the ash from these incinerators was dumped. There should be a grassroots community education campaign. People have a right to be informed. People have a right to a comprehensive assessment of the amount of contamination in these parks. This is not 1925 and its not 1970.
Earlier this month, after the Grove findings received substantial news coverage in the Miami Herald and other news outlets, DERM and Miami officials met to go through a checklist of chores the city must complete at Melreese, Grapeland, Fern Isle and Jose Marti Park, where contamination was found in a small area, possibly a remnant of marine industrial activities on the river, Mayorga said.
The city now plans to conduct periodic inspections of the ground at Grapeland and Melreese, as well as regular monitoring for ammonia in the Comfort Canal next to Fern Isle Park, said Miamis environmental compliance coordinator, Harry James. The city also plans to excavate soil that recent follow-up testing found to be contaminated with arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogenic compound, at Fern Isles western end. The city may also need to remove soil from and re-cap some areas at Melreese, he said.
Once the testing of county and Miami city parks gives DERM a clear handle on remaining contamination issues, Miami-Dade officials hope there will few other unpleasant surprises. Rules in place since the 1990s require that any land destined to become a county park be rigorously tested for contaminants. That includes the use of ground-penetrating radar to search for buried waste, said Kardys, the county parks director.
Thats especially important since many new neighborhood parks are the result of requirements that developers set aside land for that purpose, Kardys said. Typically, that land is the piece of property used to dump construction waste, which is relatively simple to clean up a task that falls to the developer.
But sometimes residual contamination remains.
When it built Westwind Lakes Park in a Kendall subdivision, the county discovered methane leaking from the ground because of buried organic waste, requiring installation of a venting system, Kardys said.
When you get into suburban areas, development comes first and then, at the end of the process, the park is built. Its not the finest real estate, Kardys noted.
But reclaiming land is the most cost-effective way to create new parks, he said, especially at a time when virgin land is scarce and prohibitively expensive for cities and the county to acquire, Kardys said.
Because contamination drives down prices, turning dirty sites into parks is a relative bargain even after factoring in the cost of remediation, Kardys said.
Ives Estates is the biggest and most recent example, he said. The property once served as the city of Miami Beachs notorious Ojus landfill, but was closed in the 1970s, after which it became a site for illegal dumping.
We went in eyes wide open and knew exactly what we were up against. We were able to get it done right, and it was a wise investment, Kardys said.
There will likely be more to come. The old landfill on Virginia Key, for decades until its closure in 1976 a dump site for city of Miami trash and incinerator ash and uncontrolled illegal dumping, has long been slated for conversion into a regional park. After years of delays, the city and county finalized an agreement to proceed with evaluation and remediation. An engineering firm was recently hired to test the site.
The county is also eyeing a site that was once home to the Hialeah incinerator at Northwest 58th Street for a regional soccer park. After the countys waste-management department restored natural water circulation at the former ash pit and landfill on the site, birds and wildlife began returning to what was in effect a restored habitat, an EPA report says.
In time, Kardys expects that the yawning rock-mining pits that line the northwest border of the county will become public recreational lakes surrounded by parks.
It makes sense to repurpose these areas, Kardys said. We need to take advantage of these opportunities, so long as its done right and its done safely.