City Quietly Labels Toxic Parks "Brownfield Sites," Limiting Neighborhood Input In Cleanup

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With little notice and no public input, the City of Miami Commission has labeled six city parks contaminated with toxic soil as so-called "Brownfield sites" -- a designation under Florida law that can limit the rights of abutting property owners to challenge clean-up plans and can prevent them from seeking damages for reduced property values.

The City Commission approved the resolution at a public hearing last July, naming Merrie Christmas Park, Blanche Park, Douglas Park, Billy Rolle Park, Southside Park, and the future Regatta Park at Dinner Key as Brownfields. Meeting minutes show no public input and no discussion from commission members, who passed the item unanimously. The resolution named the properties by address but not by name.

See also: City Ignores Reports of Toxic Soil in Residences, Sidewalks in Coconut Grove, Reports Show

Under Florida law Brownfield designation provides a statuary incentive -- through tax credits, funding, and liability protections -- for property owners to clean up contaminated lands.

Ken Russell of the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park, is outraged that he and other nearby residents were not notified of the proposal to re-label the park as a Brownfield -- a move he believes could greatly impact property values.

"It's hard to believe they didn't make an effort to tell anybody," he says.

The designation will remain, even after the park reopens. Further, Russell contends, public hearing notices were never posted around the park, as required by law. If true, say attorneys familiar with the state's Brownfield statute, the designation could be ruled invalid.

See also: Miami's Toxic Parks

City officials say an ad publicizing the hearing was placed in three local publications -- the Miami Times, the Daily Business Review, and Diario Las Americas.

Russell, whose home faces the now-fenced-off park, says he learned of the designation while researching the city's controversial plan to redistribute and cap -- rather than remove -- the tons of toxic soil that led to the park's closure last year. The park, like others throughout the city, was once used as a dumping ground for incinerator ash laced with arsenic, lead, barium and a host of other highly dangerous contaminants.

Some nearby residents are threatening to sue the City, claiming that its clean-up plan fails to adequately protect park-users and diminishes adjacent property values.

Thwarting such challenges is a key element of Florida's Brownfield law. But those protections take hold only after the owners of the property -- in this case, the City of Miami -- sign a binding clean-up agreement, known as a Brownfield Site Rehabilitation Agreement, or BSRA, with regulatory overseers.

No such agreements are in place, records reveal. Sources tell New Times that City of Miami officials are scrambling to ink deals with county's environmental regulators before legal challenges to the city's toxic park clean-up program can be filed.

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