This Toxic Timebomb Could Blow Up Soccer In Miami

Everything old is new again.

David Beckham, who has been trying to bring Major League Soccer to Miami for the last 5 years, has run headlong into an issue that roiled the city just a few years ago: Toxic soil.

Soilgate was a stain upon the City of Miami’s reputation and is a hidden aspect of racism that remains, pretty much, still hidden to this day. For 70 years Old Smokey, the incinerator situated in the Black neighbourhood of West Grove, belched out smoke and suspected carcinogens settling on everything from houses to playgrounds to fresh laundry drying on the line.

Despite decades of local complaints Old Smokey was only shuttered after White parents complained. Because of desegregation their children had been transferred to a nearby school. As time went on, people simply forgot about Old Smokey as the property was turned into a training facility for the Miami Fire Rescue Training Center.

That toxic soil timebomb eventually exploded when — after covering it up for 2 years — the City of Miami announced the closing of 8 parks due to the discovery of toxic soil. The toxic soil came from toxic fill from Old Smokey. The city was simply giving it away by the truckload, as well as using it for parks.

► Read more about Old Smokey from the Old Smokey Steering Committee
► Read more about a class action suit against the City of Miami by West Grove residents
► Read more about Soilgate in the Not Now Silly Newsroom

While the parks were eventually remediated (but not to everyone’s satisfaction) and reopened, no one really knows how well the remediation plan of removal and seal will hold up over time.

Meanwhile, Beckham and the Mas brothers are hot to bring football — as it’s known everywhere but here — to Miami. To that end they’ve already tried two previous locations which fell apart over different issues. Team Beckham is hoping the 3rd time’s the charm. The new location is Melreese Country Club.

It won’t be easy. The golf course is the only City of Miami owned golf course in the city, it is loved by people across the spectrum, and is home to The First Tee, a children’s charity whose mission statement is “To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.” Hardest of all: Approving the Beckham site would require the city to accept this no bid plan and doing so would require a change to the city by-laws to accept a non-competitive plan.

However, it was also discovered that Melreese is another Miami location filled with toxic soil. The location was previously a dump site and fill from Old Smokey may have been used here as well. According to Miami New Times:

The county first realized it might have a toxic problem in Melreese in early 2005 when it started digging in Grapeland Park, a smaller public plot that borders Melreese’s southeastern corner. Beneath a water park in Grapeland, its engineers discovered a serious issue: “Incinerator ash material was found in a layer at least two-feet thick” beneath Grapeland’s soil, according to a DERM report.

In October 2015, DERM hired a firm to drill soil samples and test water at nearby Melreese, a 154-acre course that opened in the 1960s, to see if it also was contaminated. The short answer: most definitely.

The company dug 50 holes up to three feet deep around the course and, in 36 of them, immediately found clear evidence of toxic ash. The ash was silty, “dark gray to black in color” with “brownish-red nodules” and plenty of burnt glass and metal shards, a sure sign of the waste. The thickness varied, but in some places “exceeded four feet in thickness.”

Since Grapeland was in use as a water park, county officials decided the toxic ash had to be removed ASAP. The process wasn’t cheap. In 2006, contractors quietly hauled away 86,000 tons of toxic soil at a reported cost of nearly $10 million. Grapeland is a fraction of the size of Melreese.

Last week Beckham’s boys put on their dog & pony show for the Miami City Commission to vote in favour of approving the referendum question for November’s ballot which would change the city’s charter to accept the no bid contract. However, before they got a chance to reveal their plan there was almost 4 hours of public comment, both for and against bringing soccer to Melreese, to be renamed Freedom Park.

In the end the city decided to punt the issue to another meeting this week after Commissioner Ken Russell* said there were still outstanding issues that need to be addressed, the least of which is the toxic soil on this location and who will pay for the remediation.

It’s supremely ironic that it was Russell who put the kibosh on this plan. Russell ‘made his bones’ over the issue of toxic soil. Russell woke up one morning to find the park across teh street from his house was fenced off and closed without warning. This is where he and his children played. After some investigation he discovered it was due to toxic soil from Old Smokey. Further investigation revealed a remediation plan, which had been worked out in the backrooms of Miami City Hall without any public consultation whatsoever, would be totally inadequate for the job required and would destroy much of Merrie Christmas park in the process. Russell took his fight to City Hall and won. A year later he became the dark horse winner in the race to replace the termed-out commissioner.

Not Now Silly is agnostic on the issue of Freedom Park provided 2 important conditions are met:

  • No taxpayer money is spent to build it, support it, or remediate it;
  • All concessions will be required to sell Freedom Fries instead of French Fries.

* FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been working on a book with, and about, Ken Russell, which may never see the light of day.