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Miami Temporarily Shuts Down Melreese Country Club, Site Of Proposed Beckham Soccer Stadium, Due To Soil Concerns

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Late Tuesday afternoon, the city of Miami decided to close Melreese Country Club until further notice after concerns over excessive levels of arsenic and debris in the soil were highlighted in a new environmental report put together on behalf of the Beckham soccer group, which plans to build a soccer stadium on the site.

"The purpose of this action is to allow outside experts to analyze the results of substantial new environmental testing conducted at the course," City Manager Emilio Gonzalez said in a statement. "The golf course will be reopened pending a favorable analysis."

A city spokesperson told CBS4 News the city hopes to close the park for just a few days until they get their hands around this issue.

The move comes after city and county environmental officials spent the day reacting to an environmental analysis completed by EE&G Environmental Services. The report found high levels of arsenic that exceed allowable limits in some spots as well as other soil problems like excessive lead and barium levels on the site which once housed an incinerator.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez addressed the issue Tuesday.

"Obviously I'm extremely concerned that the levels of arsenic for example are 4 and a half times — 450 percent greater -- than what is acceptable for a golf course so that is a huge concern," Suarez told reporters. "I certainly am not going to be playing golf there."

The report indicates "debris was found as shallow as half a foot from the surface" and "the debris included fragments of tile, metal and glass mixed with fine grain sands, which often exhibited a rusty color."

However, Miami-Dade County environmental experts say they see little reason to worry.

"In terms of the utility of it today as a golf course, we think it's not a major concern," said Lee Hefty, Director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management (DERM). Hefty said the county is well aware that an incinerator was once housed on the property and there is ash and chemicals as well as debris below the surface.

"The levels we're seeing in this report are consistent with what we've seen in our own history of the site," Hefty told CBS4 News

In fact, Hefty explained that golf courses typically have higher levels of arsenic because of the chemicals used to treat them.

"Your average golfer wouldn't become exposed to it because there is grass and other soil between you and the other contaminants below."

However, this is an ongoing issue and Hefty said the city of Miami has done a lot of work to make the site usable as a golf course. He added that DERM did recommend to the city last month that they isolate a few areas with excessive lead levels and fix them within 30 days. CBS4 News reached out to a city spokesperson to determine if that work has been completed.

Hefty said he sees no reason why the soil issues would prevent the Beckham group from turning the site into its vision of a soccer stadium and more.

"Redevelopment of a property is one of the best ways in order to render it safe because you go in and you either remove the material or you cap it so you eliminate the exposure pathway," he said.

Mayor Suarez said the team has long been aware of these types of issues and has agreed to pay for an additional analysis to be completed and for the entire cost of remediation of the site.

"There was always an understanding there was going to be tens of millions of dollars of remediation necessary to prep the site," Suarez said.

70 years ago, when Miami was mostly farm land the city would burn trash on city land.  Eventually those ash laden city lots became city parks. Or in this case a golf course. Now they are paying the price.

"We have seen six of our parks shut down as a result of contamination.  And we have had to spend over 10 million dollars to remediate those parks.  Thankfully those parks are back on line but it took years.  Hopefully we can avoid that now," said Suarez.

A spokesperson for the Beckham team issued a statement:

"Miami Freedom Park has continued to move forward with the various studies needed for the redevelopment of the site. Our legal team and engineers have been meeting with City Commissioners and staff about the environmental report our consultants conducted on the City's land to answer any questions they may have regarding the results. That report has been submitted to the City and is public record. As we continue to advance plans for the voter-approved Miami Freedom Park, we will be working with the City and DERM to implement a remediation plan that is thorough, and provides residents and visitors a destination that is safe for all to enjoy." 


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