Miami-Dade County

Price for Miami parks cleanup may end up in the millions

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.