Melreese Pollution Report Not 'Shockingly New,' Miami-Dade Environmental Chief Says

Aug 22, 2019

News of soil contamination at a Miami golf course being eyed by David Beckham as a future soccer stadium is not "shockingly new," the county's chief environmental regulator said Wednesday.

The city closed Melreese, its only golf course, this week after a consultant hired by Beckham and his partners found elevated levels of lead and arsenic. The group wants to turn the  course into a stadium park with a hotel, offices and shopping center. The Miami Herald first reported the findings Monday, saying the 193-page report found high levels of arsenic in more than 140 soil samples.

The contamination dates back decades to when the site was used as a dump for ash from incinerators. Melreese underwent remediation after it was discovered about 2004 when the city redeveloped neighboring Grapeland Park.

According to county records, the city hired SCS Engineers to come up with a remediation plan in 2004 after county regulators ordered the site cleaned up. For nearly a decade, little work was done while the city struggled to find money. Then in 2014 and 2015, a plan was incorporated with renovations at the golf course.

In March 2015 report, the firm noted that 61 soil borings at the site uncovered solid waste from the dump with a foot of the surface in five areas.

The city and county agreed to a clean-up plan to cap most of the 113-acre site with a foot of soil and a salt-tolerant turf grass developed at the University of Georgia. 

"That allows for a buffer between the contaminants below the land elevation and the people that will be using it on the surface," Hefty said.

The consultant also installed monitoring wells to check the contamination. The county required quarterly reports on well findings, records show. Those indicate the contamination had not spread, he said.

Earlier this year, Beckham's group contacted the county about doing additional tests, county environmental chief Lee Hefty said Wednesday. The group said it had found additional problems but did not share details, so Hefty said county workers conducted more tests on about 10 locations in June and July.

Contamination that included old construction debris, ash and elevated lead was found at three locations. The county gave the city 30 days to address the contamination.

"We found the information not shockingly new," Hefty said.

While the county ordered the city to clean up the new findings, Hefty said officials did not recommend closing the course.

"They could ... address it by cordoning off the areas and doing some hot-spot," clean-up, he said.

In 2014, the discovery of ash contamination at a Coconut Grove park triggered countywide assessments of parks, including in the city of Miami. The city agreed to a $10 million clean-up of a half-dozen parks that typically included capping the toxic soil and installing monitoring wells and left some parks shuttered for years.

At the time, Melreese had been addressed. However, as part of the agreement with the county, the city said it would consult environmental regulators if the 113-acre site was ever redeveloped and the soil disturbed.

Hefty said the county staff was still reviewing the latest findings, but had not found anything substantially new.

"We knew that the site had been used as an incinerator ash landfill site," he said. "We know that it had that history, so what we're seeing now is not surprising."