Coconut Grove

Cleanup starts at contaminated Douglas Park in Miami

City officials on Wednesday attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a project to remediate and improve Douglas Park, which has been closed since tests confirmed its soil was contaminated with heavy metals.
City officials on Wednesday attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a project to remediate and improve Douglas Park, which has been closed since tests confirmed its soil was contaminated with heavy metals. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

Two-and-a-half years after the city of Miami closed Douglas Park after finding high levels of toxins in its soil, officials have announced the start of a decontamination project.

City officials said Wednesday they expect the park, 2795 SW 37th Ave., will reopen to the public in December.

Douglas Park, on 10 acres near Coral Gables, is one of seven parks closed since September 2013, when soil tests showed high levels of metals such as arsenic, lead, iron and copper.

The contamination has been linked to an old incinerator known as Old Smokey, west of Coconut Grove. Some of the parks were built over old landfills for materials left over from incinerators.

“The closing of this park sparked the largest number of reactions by residents. I got a lot of calls and complaints, people came to my office to ask when the park was going to reopen,” Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said after a ceremony at Douglas Park to announce the decontamination project.

Beyond its recreational activities, the park served as a voting center for nearly 20 years. Its community center also served as a meeting place for many neighborhood organizations, Regalado added.

The city tested the soil in 112 parks and closed the seven, partially or totally, in order to decontaminate them. Miami will spend a total of about $11 million to clean them, with the funds coming from the general budget, taxes on new construction and an environmental bond issue.

Four of the parks have already been cleaned up and a fifth is undergoing work, said Jeovanny Rodríguez, director of the city’s Capital Improvements and Transportation Department.

Regalado said it took more than two years to start the clean up because the city had to obtain permits from Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.

The cleanup calls for removing up to a foot of topsoil, installing a waterproof sheet and then refilling the area with clean soil. The drainage system also will be rebuilt, the parking lot will be repaved and walking lanes will get new lights.

In a second phase, Douglas Park will get a new community center by October 2017. The rest of the park will reopen this December, Rodríguez said.

“Our priority is for the park to be safe again so the community can visit it,” Rodríguez added. The cost of the cleanup and reconstruction at Douglas Park will total about $8 million.

Concerns about the presence of toxins and contaminants in the parks started in 2011, when the city found contaminated soils in a fire department training facility built over the old Coconut Grove incinerator.

County regulators ordered the city to determine the cause of the contamination and eliminate it, but Miami officials took two years to write a report that showed high levels of arsenic and other metals. The results were not made public until a group of University of Miami students discovered the report.

Under the watchful eyes of UM, county regulators and residents, the city then began to test the soils within a one-mile radius of the old incinerator.

“Residents should be proud, because they fought a lot to improve this park,” Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez said Wednesday.

Miami Herald reporters David Smiley and Jenny Staletovich contributed to this report.

Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar

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