What Are a Few Toxins Among Friends?

Environmentalists can't understand why the EPA would remove the Munisport dump from the Superfund list

Officials from the state Bureau of Natural and Cultural Resources, which oversees the mangrove preserve as well as Oleta River State Recreational Area northeast of the Munisport landfill, believe that before departing, the EPA should determine whether the water around the mangroves is clean enough to support marine life. But those officials reluctantly have agreed to the EPA's withdrawal because they want to reduce the number of government agencies involved in the cleanup. "The toxicity has decreased significantly, but that in and of itself does not prove that we are not still being subjected to contamination," worries Mickey Bryant, a bureau scientist. "We want to be on the record indicating that we're not convinced this site is cleaned up."

Such contradictory conclusions prompted members of the Audubon Society and the Munisport Dump Coalition to request the ombudsman's independent oversight. And the EPA's misleading statements to Judge Marcus have only amplified their growing distrust of both the agency and the city.

Even North Miami officials acknowledge that past city actions have done little to inspire citizen confidence. The site was not originally intended as a landfill at all; the city had promised to build a recreational center there. Munisport, a company owned by a demolition firm, was supposed to bring in clean fill for golf course landscaping. Instead it began collecting and dumping garbage, perhaps as early as 1972.

The city in 1982 invited the EPA to supervise the landfill in the mistaken belief that the federal government would help pay for its cleanup. When it became clear that the EPA would instead police the city's own work, local officials petitioned repeatedly for the agency to pull out.

It wasn't until 1990, however, that the EPA decided the city's efforts were progressing well enough that it could begin packing its bags to leave. EPA and city officials came to an agreement regarding specific clean-up objectives, which Judge Marcus approved in 1991.

Though Audubon and the Munisport Dump Coalition have no official standing in the case, Marcus allowed them to submit comments to him. Those organizations were instrumental in compelling the EPA to re-examine its own conclusions and continue its oversight through this past fall, when the agency again announced its intention to leave.

Nathan Teske, a University of Miami political science professor who is writing a book about Munisport, says the EPA's decision, while practical, does not address promises the agency made in 1991. "The EPA made certain commitments of what they would do -- [decontaminate the water flowing into the mangroves] and in how much time they would do it. They talked about a fifteen-year time period in which the cleanup would go on. Now all of a sudden, seven years later, they're out.

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