Longform

A Guide to Trashing Taxpayers

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Watchdog Report publisher Dan Ricker, who has monitored the construction and operation of both cultural facilities, believes it will be impossible for the county to continue to subsidize both venues. "In a down economy, will there be money for programming all the smaller cultural centers and the mother ship in downtown Miami?" Ricker ponders. "I'm worried."

Sunkist Park

Year built: 2011

Cost: $350,000

What's dumb about it: It's a playground that parents can't drive their kids to.

Why it was built: To get rid of a trash dump.

The county's parks and recreation department decided in 2009 to spruce up a less-than-one-acre lot after complaints from Carla Ascencio-Savola, who at the time was chairwoman of the community council that represents East Kendall. "It had become an eyesore," Ascencio-Savola says, adding that residents began using the property as a dump after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. So she persuaded Carlos Gimenez, then a commissioner, to allocate funds for a small park.

With $350,000 in taxpayer cash, the county spared no expense in transforming the lot into Sunkist Park, a pristine green space at 8401 SW 64th St. in a residential neighborhood. The landscape is filled with pine trees and sabal palms, as well as other shrubs meant to replicate the pine rockland you can find for free a few miles to the west in the Everglades. A rubber-padded playground and swing set share space with a winding concrete walkway. The county even enlisted noted Miami landscape architect Leticia Fernandez-Beraud and biologists from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden to help design the place.

Yet for all the money spent, no one thought about including parking. So parents have to haul in their brood on foot. On a recent Saturday afternoon, prime playtime, the park was empty during a 30-minute visit. From the street, it looks like a nice, tree-lined sidewalk.

South Miami resident Rob Pierre believes the county should have simply cleared the garbage. "They call Sunkist 'the last vestige of the pineland preserve,'" Pierre scoffs. "It's all hogwash. If the county wanted to build a playground for kids, a sandbox would have sufficed."

Port Tunnel

Year built: Currently under construction

Cost: $1 billion and counting

What's dumb about it: It will wreak havoc on

Biscayne Bay and the MacArthur Causeway.

Why it was built: To mitigate container truck traffic.

The premise behind the project doesn't hold water. Since the '80s, city, county, and state leaders have touted the tunnel as the best way to remove big-rig trucks entering the Port of Miami from the streets of downtown Miami. Despite warnings from skeptical politicians such as county Commissioner Joe Martinez that the tunnel could become Miami's version of the Big Dig, the Boston tunnel project that cost five times the original price, it is moving at full-bore. But consider: The Port of Miami has lost cargo and cruise business to Port Everglades in Broward. Truck traffic at Miami's port has dropped from 32,000 vehicles in 1991 to 19,000 today. Last year, truckers told New Times the problem is not the streets of downtown Miami, but the slow entrance to the port's heavily secured docks.

Alejandro Arrieta, who owns Delta Line International, a shipping line that has been in business for a decade, said delays have more do to with Homeland Security screenings and union labor than traffic. "We all know the Port of Miami is the most inefficient on the East Coast," Arrieta lamented. "That's not going to change with the tunnel."

The tunnel project never would have gotten off the ground if it weren't for President Barack Obama. The commander in chief's economic stimulus package provided the final $100 million to get the tunnel, um, off the ground. Construction began this past August when the $45 million boring machine nicknamed "Harriet" began digging through the limestone beneath the MacArthur Causeway. The tunnel should really be renamed the Great Make Work Act of 2011. County leaders boast it will create 400 jobs during its construction.

Environmental activist Alan Farago says the project isn't worth the damage it will cause to nearby coral and the Biscayne Aquifer. He notes the dredging company is using unidentified polymers to fortify the crumbly limestone. "How much polymer is going to be used?" Farago wonders. "What is the effect of unleashing carcinogens into the bay? If there are toxic agents being introduced, who is going to stop the project?"

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.