Bayfront Park is polluted. There is lead, arsenic, and other toxins in the soil. This contamination was actually discovered during last year’s survey of the City of Miami’s 112 public parks, which followed the discovery of poison ash in Coconut Grove at the former site of the Old Smokey municipal trash incinerator, since used as a training center for the fire-rescue department. But now, finally, the cleanup is being planned.
Opened in 1925, Bayfront was created by filling a 62.5-acre piece of land with mud pumped up from the bottom of Biscayne Bay. This is perhaps how the tainted dirt ended up at park. However, it had been previously used as a shipyard by the Florida East Coast Railway for years. And there was also a landscaping redesign in the 1980s that could have brought toxic soil to downtown Miami’s most prominent green space. But at no time in the 20th century was the earth tested, and city officials have no idea how it became polluted.
Of course, Bayfront, now 32 acres, is only one of Miami’s so-called “poison parks." As the city has surveyed its green spaces, lead-, arsenic-, and barium-laced toxic ash from Old Smokey and other toxins have been found in the dirt of many other parks, including Blanche Park and Merrie Christmas Park, as well as Douglas, Curtis, Southside, Brothers to the Rescue, and Billy Rolle Domino parks. Even the former Bicentennial Park, now the location of the Pérez Art Museum Miami and once the site of Port Miami docks, was discovered to be contaminated in 2010.
So far, cleanup of Miami’s parks has cost millions of dollars. And money is predictably the major point of contention in the current negotiations between Miami-Dade County environmental regulators, the City of Miami, and the Bayfront Park Management Trust over how — and even whether — to remove Bayfront's lead- and arsenic-tainted soil.
At a meeting this week of city officials and the trust, the Miami Herald reports, the price of cleaning up Bayfront (as estimated by consultants from SCS Engineers) was said to be several hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million. The most expensive method would be total removal of the tainted dirt. This sort of approach took 18 months and $1.2 million at Merrie Christmas Park in Coconut Grove.
The Bayfront Park Management Trust, the controlling agency responsible for all Bayfront-related business, insists it has neither the funds, nor the time for a pricey and lengthy cleanup. The trust is also perturbed about paying the bill on its own without contributions from the city.
“The whole issue has been moving along extremely slowly,” trust chairman and Miami city commissioner Frank Carollo said, according to the Herald. “The only city park that the city has not been paying for any of the work, and where there is no plan for the remediation, is Bayfront Park. This is expensive, especially for an organization that doesn’t receive any money from the city of Miami.”
Certain trust board members, including Carollo, even suggested the removal of the toxic soil is unnecessary, because the pollution is low enough to not actually pose a public health risk.
As quoted by the Herald, trust member Nathan Kurland said: “You would have to literally ingest the dirt to get sick. I want the park to be a safe place for people to be. But we’d like to see some kind of sanity involved in this.”
(Found in lower concentrations than at other Miami parks, based on the results of city tests, Bayfront’s lead and arsenic is present in soil along Biscayne Boulevard between NE First and Second streets, an area that’s currently restricted and cordoned off.)
Still, despite the trust’s objections and the seemingly less dangerous levels of contamination at Bayfront, city officials insisted on a cleanup and threatened to close the park, just as the since-reopened Merrie Christmas was shut down, if the trust refused to cooperate.
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In the end, Carollo, Kurland, and the other dissenting trust members relented, voting to contract consultants for a cleanup plan. The fee for those services will be $100,000.
Another, probably more serious cost concern for the Bayfront Park Management Trust is the potential loss of funds generated over the coming year from leasing the park to event organizers.
The Bayfront Park Amphitheater was just recently rebooted by Live Nation, which announced an ambitious spring/summer schedule featuring eight major concerts by acts like Nicki Minaj, Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, and the Culture Club. But it seems unlikely that any cleanup would interfere with these live-music shows, because the polluted patch of dirt is all the way on the other side of the park.
However, with 11 months till Ultra 2016, the trust’s most lucrative weekend of the year may be at risk. And that’s why, as board members even admitted to the Herald, they really can’t afford an 18-month cleanup.