Price for Miami parks cleanup may end up in the millions

FILE--Fences have gone up at Merrie Christmas Park in Coconut Grove on Thursday, Sept.26, 2013. The fence is being erected to keep folks from entering the park where soil contamination has been found.
FILE--Fences have gone up at Merrie Christmas Park in Coconut Grove on Thursday, Sept.26, 2013. The fence is being erected to keep folks from entering the park where soil contamination has been found.

Timetable for cleaning up parks

Blanche Park, 3045 Shipping Ave.: Contamination from buried ash was first discovered in late August. The city paved over a parking area and kept the park, which is mostly covered with artificial turf, open. In November, after tests show elevated levels of antimony in monitoring wells, DERM ordered the city to drill two additional wells outside park boundaries to determine whether contamination had spread. Those wells showed it did not, but DERM will likely recommend quarterly sampling. Total cost of remediation is expected to reach $500,000 and be complete by the summer of 2014.

Merrie Christmas Park, 3840 SW 37th Ave.: After discovering contamination in late September as part of its wider study, DERM ordered the park closed. The city’s consultants, SCS ES, is now developing a plan which will likely call for the park to be covered with two feet of clean fill. Near trees, workers would remove one to two feet of contaminated soil and cover the area with rubberized mulch, then glue it in place. Cost is expected to reach $500,000 and be complete by the summer of 2014.

Douglas Park, 2795 SW 37th Ave.: As part of its wider study, DERM tested the park in late October and early November and ordered the park closed in late November. This month, DERM granted the city’s request for an extension to determine the boundaries of the contamination. That report is now due Feb. 6, but should be submitted next week. Work is expected to extend into late 2014. While the size of the contamination is not yet known, it is expected to exceed $500,000.

Billy Rolle Park, 3400 Grand Ave.: In late December, the city’s consultants spotted signs of incinerator ash. An assessment of the contamination should begin by the end of the month. Because it is so small, officials expect it to cost only about $200,000. Southside Park, 100 SW 11th St.: The city closed this small park near Brickell at the same time it closed Billy Rolle. A visual inspection should be submitted to DERM by the end of January. The city is also trying to determine how much of the park will be affected, but expects costs to total about $500,000.

Curtis Park, 1901 NW 24th Ave.: This large sprawling, recreational complex, located about a mile and a half from the city’s old 20th Street incinerator, was the last flagged after contamination was discovered in late December. Because much of it is covered with artificial turf, rubber track and concrete courts, it remains open. The city is now trying to come up with a plan to keep it open. DERM rejected its first plan last week and asked for a revised one by Monday. Although the extent of the contamination is not yet known, clean-up cost is expected to exceed $500,000 because of the park’s large size.

Source: Miami Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo and Miami-Dade County’s Division of Environmental Resources Management.

Nearly six months after discovering soil tainted by toxic incinerator ash in a Coconut Grove park, officials are slowly piecing together plans to address the contamination that has grown to six city parks.

Cleaning the parks will almost certainly cost in the millions and take months to complete.

“It’s a process that’s going to take longer than you or I or the residents would like,” said Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes five of the parks. “I’m going to dedicate every life force I can to getting these open. But bureaucrats don’t look at it the same way. It’s just a piece of paper on their desk and they’ll get to it.”

Preliminary estimates put the cost of addressing the contamination at more than $3 million, or $500,000 for each with some potentially costing far more, said Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo. Officials hope to reopen Merrie Christmas Park on South Le Jeune Road, where contamination was found in the fall during an early round of testing, by next summer.

Miami-Dade officials also have agreed to let the city open an eastern section if it moves a fence and collects additional soil samples, according to a Jan. 13 email.

The other closed parks, including Douglas, Billy Rolle and Southside, will remain fenced off while the city determines how far contamination linked to the ash has leached into the soil, Bravo said.

The ash, hauled from the bottom of incinerators, typically contains heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, antimony and barium that can cause a host of health problems. Once in the ground, they tend to remain, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Metals do not degrade like carbon-based (organic) molecules,” the agency reports.

Workers found the contamination late last summer after West Grove residents began complaining that the city was taking too long to address tainted soil found at a fire training facility. An old municipal incinerator had operated at the site on Jefferson Street from about 1925 through the early 1970s.

In response to complaints, Sarnoff asked the city staff to test nearby schools and parks. At the same time, the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management launched a wider study to determine whether smoke from the incinerator’s stack had spread ash across a wider area.

The tests showed no widespread contamination from smoke, but did find contamination where ash had been buried, mostly in what are now parks.

The city then began inspecting all 112 of its parks for signs of melted glass and other debris usually found in ash, which led to the more recent park closures. Bravo said earlier this week that the inspections are nearly complete.

Reopening the four closed parks, and addressing tainted soil at Curtis Park, a sprawling recreational complex at 1901 NW 24th Ave. less than two miles from another shuttered municipal incinerator, will take time because clean-up is complicated.

Hired consultants first must map out the boundaries of the contamination by taking samples from multiple soil borings — which can number in the hundreds — at different depths.

Once the tainted area is mapped out, the city’s consult, SCS ES, will draft a lengthy Site Assessment Report. The plans include recommendations for either cleaning up the soil or doing something to protect the public, such as paving over it as workers did at Blanche Park at 3045 Shipping Ave. in Coconut Grove. Once consultants complete their plans for addressing the contamination, DERM must approve them.

DERM also can ask for additional measures, as was the case with Merrie Christmas Park. Still, Merrie Christmas should be easy to clean up because it is mostly open field.

“You just have to put that barrier down and then dirt on top,” Sarnoff said.

But tackling Douglas Park, he said, will take far longer and cost far more.

“It’s a volume thing. It’s the difference between drinking out of a six-ounce bottle and a gallon jug. It’s still water, but it’s a lot of water.”

In addition to the size of the park, it contains many more features, including new tennis and basketball courts, playground equipment and a community center. Sarnoff said he hopes to save as many of the improvements as possible, but will not be able to save the building.

“Then I need to find the funding source,” he said.

The county is using 2004 bond money to cover the cost of remediation, he said, but it won’t pay for constructing a building.

“The county has been great partners. They agreed to pay for Merrie Christmas and Blanche, but that’s as far as we are,” he said.

The two smaller parks, Southside Park, at 100 SW 11th St., and Billy Rolle Park at 3400 Grand Ave., still are being studied to determine whether there is contamination from ash debris that the city’s consultant spotted.

Curtis Park, where contamination was just confirmed a month ago, remains open because much of it is covered with artificial turf, concrete or rubber track. However, for it to stay open DERM has asked the city to submit a plan for roping off contaminated areas. That plan is due Monday.

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