Merrie Christmas Park in Coconut Grove is alive again, filled with the sounds of children laughing and dashing about and parents chatting under lush banyan trees.
It took 18 months — and $1.2 million — but Miami has dealt with the soil contamination that forced the city to close the leafy oasis at South Le Jeune Road and Barbarossa Avenue.
It’s the second environmental remediation that the city of Miami has completed since it closed seven parks in 2013 after tests found toxic metals in the soil. Blanche Park, also in Coconut Grove, reopened last year.
The contamination was presumably caused by the dumping of ashes from an old municipal incinerator — Old Smokey — in Coconut Grove. The incinerator operated for half a century before the city shut it down.
For the cleanup, city contractors dug out contaminated soil from certain areas and created a seal with one to two feet of clean fill. The city also installed bonded rubber mulch around the banyan trees, put in new sidewalks and a drinking fountain, refurbished the existing playground and added a rubberized playing surface.
“It feels wonderful. It makes a huge difference to know that it is open,” said neighbor Ken Russell.
There were fits and starts on the path to the park’s revival. Russell led a fight by neighbors to have the city dig out a larger volume of contaminants. Some had even hired an attorney to sue the city.
Miami, which had issues with the cost of the neighbors’ blueprint, won approval for its plan from Miami-Dade environmental officials.
In October 2014, residents received a letter from the city announcing an anonymous donation that could have covered the cost difference.
However, District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said in a newsletter that the park was remediated the way the city originally planned.
“I appreciate the initial activism and input by the neighbors about the process by which the city planned to carry out the remediation work, and I want to remind you that each step was ultimately prescribed by [the county] and the EPA,” Sarnoff said in the newsletter. “The only thing that matters at this point is that the park is open, safe and is better than before.”
While some residents wonder what happened with the anonymous donor, they are glad to have the park in good shape.
“People want to make memories and forget about the contamination,” said Russell, who is now running for city commissioner in district 2.
Last Saturday, Russell invited his neighbors and other candidates to a potluck at the newly reopened park. It was to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday — and to launch his campaign.
“This whole experience has brought the neighbors together,” Russell said. “And now we appreciate the park even more.”