(Florida International University) -MIAMI — A pair of baby Cooper’s Hawks has postponed the cleanup of Olinda Park, one day after work was to begin and more than a year after the park was closed when toxic levels of lead and arsenic were found in the soil.
Workers were forced to withdraw when they discovered the federally protected birds in the park and can’t start again until two fledglings leave the nest, possibly within the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, community residents wonder in a mixture of frustration and irritation why the park is not yet cleaned up and open.
“That’s the only thing we have to relax,” said a middle-aged man who has lived for 15 years near the park, located at Northwest 52nd and Northwest 22nd avenues in Liberty City. “My wife used to run there and my daughters used to eat the fruits from the trees,” said the man, who declined to give his name.
The Marva Y. Bannerman Park and Pool, the closest nearby facility, is about six blocks distant away.
The grassy areas of Olinda Park were closed when surveys conducted in April 2011 revealed the presence of poisonous chemicals, apparently from a long-ago ash fill. Two basketball courts and the recreation section remained open.
The county Department of Environmental Resources Management closed the park entirely after conducting subsequent sampling several months later.
The county health department offered free lead contamination blood tests at health centers in the area for all residents and children who have visited the park. No child tested positive.
Officials initially said the cleanup would cost between $1 million and $2 million and take about four months. They say now that it could take 42 weeks.
The initial project was to remove about two feet of contaminated soil and a number of trees, install new storm drainage, cap the contaminated area and replace the soil.
A later design included replacing basketball courts and a playground.
Since then the only evidence of work is a fence that surrounds the facility and some demolition, though park officials said loads of clean dirt was also delivered to the site.
Park officials said it took from November to last month to figure out the best way to clean up the toxins and to process bids from prospective contractors, but say the rebuilt park will please residents.
“It is going to be a lot better than before,” said Luis Espinosa, communications director of for the county environmental department.
Cooper’s Hawks are about 10 inches to 14 inches long, the size of a pigeon or jay, and can be found throughout the country. They typically prey on small birds and mammals.
The 1919 federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act bars disturbing or removing about 1,000 migratory bird species, including all hawk species.
Work will not resume until two fledglings leave the nest. Espinosa said there’s nothing environmental officials can do.
“We have to wait until the two baby hawks in the nest become adults and migrate spontaneously,” he said. “We keep checking the nest every day.”
Some neighbors, though, have a different take.
“They don’t care about this community,” said Bo Jackson, 51, who has lived close to the park his entire life. “If this happened in a Hispanic community, politicians would be behind it.”
Contact Erick Lappin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Erick Lappin/Liberty City Link