Miami's Toxic Parks

Park visitors expressed similar surprise. "Arsenic. That's bad, right?" asked Yoselin (who declined to provide her last name) while her two children, ages 3 and 4, wandered the playground. Assured that it is indeed bad, she nodded toward the kids. "What if they were to, like, get it on them?"

As she pondered the prospect, six 20-somethings — each holding a red plastic Solo cup, the guys wearing fedoras, the women in skirts and heels, all looking as if they just exited a taxi after a night on South Beach — weaved through one another toward the play area. "Hey, we're looking for the yacht!" said one of the women, pressing a cup to her lips.

"No yachts 'round here," sniffed Yoselin.

University of Miami law school fellow Zach Lipshultz pushed the City of Miami to take action on ash dumped from Old Smokey.
Marta Xochilt Perez
University of Miami law school fellow Zach Lipshultz pushed the City of Miami to take action on ash dumped from Old Smokey.
Old Smokey, an infamous incinerator that was demolished years ago.
The Miami Herald/John Rogers Partners
Old Smokey, an infamous incinerator that was demolished years ago.

Undeterred, the group continued its quest, underneath the span of I-95 that rises four stories above the park, around the gym and community center, and then back, following signs for the Miami River Greenway, which extends briefly here along the waterfront.

As they reached the park's north end, their search fizzled at the walls of a seafood packing plant. They gazed up and down the river. Their yacht was nowhere in sight. If the city's low-budget remediation plan for José Martí Park rests on its ability to control and monitor visitor access to toxic sites, nobody told this blundering bunch.

Neither Pascual nor City of Miami environment compliance coordinator Harry James responded to detailed requests for comment. But according to notes of a 2012 meeting between city and county officials, James — the point man for the city's environmental concerns — blamed "tight budgets" for the city's inability to resolve cases dating back more than a decade.

DERM could sue for failure to comply with county environmental laws in a timely manner, but it appears unwilling to apply the tough-love tactic. The files are filled with letters, year after year, ending with the same hollow threat: "Further failure to achieve the required compliance at the subject site shall result in additional enforcement action by this Department."

And the game goes on. Asked to describe the city's responsiveness in these two cases, which have dragged on for 12 and 11 years, respectively, DERM's longtime environmental chief, Wilbur Mayorga, cleared his throat before responding: "Let's just say they are not presently in compliance with regard to the cases we've discussed."

Lipshultz, the law student who uncovered the whole thing, is less diplomatic. He blasts the city for moving at a snail's pace despite the potential health risks. But he also takes county officials to task for what he describes as a kind of bureaucratic nodding and winking that fuels this regulatory dysfunction.

Only after the outcry following the Old Smokey revelations, he says, did the county and city agree to a far wider and more thorough testing program, which led to the Blanche Park closure. "Keeping things quiet is far less expensive," Lipshultz suggests. "But public pressure changes everything."

And the lack of public pressure might explain why the city is noncompliant in two other drawn-out pollution-control cases. Thirteen years after discovering soil tainted from an old underground oil storage facility on a city-owned swale along NE 55th Street near the corner of Fourth Avenue, DERM officials are still asking the city how and when it plans to clean up the mess. The deadline for the most recent compliance demand — a report detailing completed soil excavation, disposal, and subsequent test results — passed last Friday. The site, outside the Dixie Transport warehouse and across the street from Dr. Jacobsen's Weight Loss Clinic, is covered in grass, save a small splotch of soggy soil where turf seems disinclined to sprout.

A similar contamination, and perhaps a daily reminder of their costly remediation backlog, lies closer to home for Sarnoff and other city leaders under scrutiny for the handling of the Old Smokey cleanup: The soil beneath a small triangular wedge of waterfront land just outside Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove's Dinner Key is tainted with arsenic and an array of chemicals associated with petroleum.

To any visitor, the sloping patch of grass offers a stunning view of the Grove's working waterfront and across Biscayne Bay to the downtown Miami skyline. The only sign of trouble is a small pipe — the head of a monitoring well — protruding from the ground.

Environmental engineers suspect leaking storage tanks that serviced the flying boats that made the area a major hub for commercial air traffic in the 1930s. It is a relatively new discovery, dating back four years, when workers encountered suspicious-looking soil while excavating the area to install a storm drain. Some soil has been removed, but more must come out. And after the city missed an August deadline for detailing its long-awaited clean-up plans, county officials and local residents can only guess what happens next.

To be sure, city and county officials are far more focused these days on Old Smokey and the off-the-charts contamination at Blanche Park.

During last week's community meeting in the West Grove's Elizabeth Virrick Park, the officials, including DERM's chief, Mayorga, presented the expedited results of soil testing at 51 new sites within a one-mile radius of the incinerator, which was closed in 1970. Contamination levels, he said, were low and generally consistent with other sites throughout Miami-Dade.

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12 comments
susanwilliams407
susanwilliams407

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illwilled19
illwilled19

I'm sure the Miami River is just toxic waste flowing out into the sea, just look at all the businesses that have existed along the river for years would know the illegal dumping that gone on there is Common , not to mention whatever lies beneath those waters ,,,,,,

halen156
halen156

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drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter


You control our world. You’ve poisoned the air we breathe, contaminated the water we drink, and copyrighted the food we eat. We fight in your wars, die for your causes, and sacrifice our freedoms to protect you. You’ve liquidated our savings, destroyed our middle class, and used our tax dollars to bailout your unending greed. We are slaves to your corporations, zombies to your airwaves, servants to your decadence. You’ve stolen our elections, assassinated our leaders, and abolished our basic rights as human beings. You own our property, shipped away our jobs, and shredded our unions. You’ve profited off of disaster, destabilized our currencies, and raised our cost of living. You’ve monopolized our freedom, stripped away our education, and have almost extinguished our flame. We are hit… we are bleeding… but we ain’t got time to bleed. We will bring the giants to their knees and you will witness our revolution!

drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter

poor families reside. Poor parents are constrained in theirchoice of neighborhoods and schools. Lowincome may lead to residence in extremelypoor neighborhoods characterized by socialdisorganization (crime, many unemployedadults, neighbors not monitoring the behavor of adolescents)

 Do you live next to some of the nation’s worst toxic waste sites and not even know it?

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RafT
RafT

My neighbor in the Grove died of Pancreatic cancer.  She was a teacher at Carver Middle, one of the potential toxic sites.  RIP.

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hall16243

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