Miami's Toxic Parks: Leaders Ignore Problems Beyond Coconut Grove
After locals were stung by the revelation that Miami leaders have known for two years that toxic ash is poisoning the Coconut Grove neighborhood surrounding its long-closed "Old Smokey" trash incinerator, city officials wasted little time last week confronting the latest environmental crisis.
Just four days after learning that soil tests in nearby Blanche Park turned up traces of dioxins, arsenic, barium, lead, and other deadly contaminants -- presumably from deposits of incinerator ash -- City of Miami crews swooped in with an assuring show of force, carting away truckloads of toxic soil and paving the excavated area with a foot of asphalt.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff -- who, as fate would have it, lives across the street from the tiny strip of leafy suburban green space -- held vigil, pledging to neighbors and TV cameras that city workers were doing everything possible to guarantee the health and safety of residents, a message he repeated a week later at a tense, city-sponsored community gathering. Testing, he declared, would continue.
But far from the media spotlight and the glare of embarrassed city officials, toxic cleanup at four other city-owned properties is far less of a priority. There has been virtually no community input and little public awareness of the dangers that contaminated soils pose. Two of those properties are anonymous plots of grass with few visitors, but the other two are within high-volume recreational parks that serve a mostly low-to-middle-income population and where unsuspecting users of all ages and interests might be treading on ground unfit for human contact.
Four miles up the road from the toxic ground zero of Coconut Grove, in the shadow of the Dolphin Expressway on NW 11th Street near 22nd Avenue, sits Fern Isle Park, a narrow swath of ball fields, picnic pavilions, and the grassed-over remains of an illegal dump used for years by City of Miami work crews.
In 2001, county environmental regulators busted the city, issued a cease-and-desist order to stop the dumping, and demanded a clean-up plan, including lab tests to measure the toxicity of contaminated soil and groundwater. But according to reams of public records from the case uncovered by New Times, city officials refused to close the dump, arguing they would limit deposits to yard waste and what they considered other "clean" debris.