MIAMI – Ken Russell is a father of three with a close eye on the City of Miami's contaminated soil remediation efforts happening across the street at Merrie Christmas Park.
The city closed Merrie Christmas Park after soil samples collected by county officials uncovered worrisome concentrations of arsenic, barium, copper, iron, and lead similar to what was found in the soil at Blanche Park.
"This is a very large park, and right now, we have basically two samples that tested to have certain heavy metals, so we're going to close off the park, we're going to conduct a sampling grid, and determine if those are just two isolated spots or if there's a greater issue," said Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo in September of last year.
Since then clean-up efforts have been underway. Russell worries the city will be dispersing some of the contaminated soil to other sections of the park. The plan is to cap that soil with a layer of "clean soil" but Russell thinks all removed soil should be disposed not dispersed.
A group of homeowners neighboring the park have launched a Facebook group with the message "we want a cleanup, not a cover up."
The commissioner for this area tells Local 10 News he has heard their concerns, is currently working to address them, and a public meeting is in the works.
The Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources Division of Environmental Resources Management took the samples as part of its evaluation of the areas surrounding Old Smokey, a former incinerator in Coconut Grove. Health officials tested soil at 40 sites.
"When I was a little kid, I remember the incinerators burning," said Timothy Brantley, who lives near Merrie Christmas Park. "Waste was going everywhere."
Health officials believe waste from former incinerators was dumped at the park.
"This is a child's dream here," said Brantley. "Every day, the little kids play, teams come down here and play in the middle of the fields. There's very few parks like this. This is beautiful."
"I've been coming here all my life. It would be sad if something happened and I couldn't come back," added Eunice Salasuraze.
Russell wants all the removed contaminated soil to be disposed of.
According to Mark Spanioli, Director of Capital Improvements and Transportation Program at the City of Miami, "the estimated additional cost to remove the remainder of the contaminated soil would be approximately: $3 million."
In an e-mail obtained by Local 10 Spanioli writes that he trusts their plan to cap contaminated fill with 2-feet of clean fill as required by regulation will not impact groundwater.
"Groundwater was tested at areas where the depths of contaminated soils were identified and no groundwater impacts were found. The corrective measures proposed at the site should not negatively impact these results and the proposed clean fill cap will provided additional safety measures to prevent groundwater contamination."
Homeowners in the area also worry about their property values moving forward. Right now homes within a quarter mile of the park have an unwanted designation on Miami-Dade County's website.
It states "adjacent to a contaminated site". In his letter to City Manager Daniel Alfonso and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff Russell writes, "Whatever remediation is done absolutely must remove this designation. Our home values will plummet with such a designation."
About this concern Spanioli wrote in an e-mail obtained by Local 10, "We do not have an answer to this at this time. We have put in a request to Miami-Dade County to determine if this will be the case as the City does not maintain the County's web database.
Our "Corrective Action Plan" for this park was approved by the County and meets the regulator requirements to prevent soil exposure to Park users. Once the remediation has been completed, the City will receive a "No Further Action" letter from the County."
Russell is asking the city to "halt the current remediation and re-assess the plan."