MIAMI (Florida International University)- Olinda Park remains closed to the public more than 18 months after harmful amounts of lead contamination were discovered in the soil.
The Miami-Dade County Park at at Northwest 51st Street and 21st Avenue is enclosed by a chain link fence and overlaying mesh tarp. Grass and weeds are overgrown and basketball courts are littered with trash.
Cleanup has met with numerous delays, some not immediately explained, despite repeated assurances that it would start. Estimated completion is now May of next year.
“Cleanup activities are expected to commence within he next few weeks,” said
Francisco Calderon, communications manager for the Miami-Dade County Public Works and Waste Management Department. “Once the cleanup
activities are completed the renovations will be made to the park.”
The cleanup originally was to focus on a small part of the park, but discovery of additional pollution extended it to the entire facility. Cleanup plans now include renovations, some made necessary when a park building was damaged by excavations associated with the work.
Nearby residents are confused and aggravated.
“The park has been closed for almost two years now. A lot of parents are frustrated,” said Keybo Jones, 51, a lifelong Liberty City resident who fondly remembers playing in Olinda Park as a child. “The kids have nowhere to play anymore.”
The park has been partially or completely closed since April, 2011.
Initially only a grassy field was affected and the plan was to replace contaminated soil there. The rest of the park, including basketball courts, a parking lot and the Virie Lewis Community Center building, remained open.
Officials closed the rest of the park after additional tests by the county’s Department of Environmental Resource Management revealed more contamination.
Originally, officials said the cleanup project would cost between $1 million and $2 million and take approximately four months.
Cleanup workers discovered Cooper's Hawks early last summer, more than a year later. The species is is protected under federal law, forcing work to stop for about three months until until two baby hawks left the nest.
“The Cooper’s Hawks nest was removed in July after the hawks fledged and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission gave permission for the removal,” said Luis Espinoza, spokesman for the county Department of Environmental Resource Management.
Adding to the delay was structural damage to the Virie Lewis Community Center building that occurred after the cleanup and renovations had begun.
Repairs to the building are underway, as steel and concrete pilings are being installed beneath the structure to better support its foundation.
Plans to improve the park have expanded to include an enhanced walkway system, the addition of exercise equipment and site furniture, the replacement of multipurpose court and playground surfaces, as well as other amenities.
The improvements will be paid for by a $250,000 federal grant. County funds will cover the cleanup, now estimated at $1.4 million.
Residents, though, still feel the Olinda Park cleanup project is being neglected.
“Because we’re in a predominately black community, they’re not pushing it enough,” said Jones. “The community is not aware of what’s going on. They need to know.”
Contact Tamara Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org