MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After a group of concerned Miami citizens protested the city’s plan to clean up one of its toxic parks, the city is now asking Coral Gables to help pay for the cleanup.

Protest arose because the city’s plan is to redistribute the toxic soil at Merrie Christmas Park and add new soil on top. The residents argued this plan would continue to put their health at risk.

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“You’re basically throwing your residents, your constituents, under the bus not only once but twice. You’re potentially ruining property value,” said Jose Rey.  If the contaminated soil is not removed, property within a quarter mile of the park could be declared as being near a hazardous waste site.

“Their main concern is about their real estate values will be affected,” said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Sarnoff said he would ask the city of Coral Gables to help pay the additional cost of removing the contaminated soil in the park, rather than just cover it up.  The park is across the street from a Gables residential area.

“They use the park and it potentially affects their property values,” Sarnoff said Tuesday.

With the exception of one of their members, Gables commissioners, meeting Tuesday, did not warm to the notion of helping Miami pay for an enhanced cleanup of the park.

Commissioner Vince Lago was the lone supporter of possibly kicking in on the project.

“We’re going to address the issue, and I want to bring the issue to the forefront and find a way that we can bring the city of Miami some assistance,” Lago told CBS4 News.

Gables Mayor Jim Cason dismissed the idea outright.

“I like to put our money into Coral Gables,” the mayor said.

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Commissioner Frank Quesada conceded that many Gables residents use Merrie Christmas park but he had reservations about helping rehabilitate it.

“I’m somewhat conflicted about spending city taxpayers’ money on another municipality,” Quesada said.

Quesada offered an analogy, saying lots of Miami residents enjoy the Gables’ Miracle Mile, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to ask Miami to help pay for the Miracle Mile renovation.

After some discussion, commissioners agreed with Lago that the Gables should help Miami in any way it can to get the county or federal government to help fund a more complete cleanup of the park.

Ken Russell, a South Grove resident who lives across from the park, has criticized the city for not consulting with its residents about the cleanup plan.

Russell even began a Facebook page called Friends of Merrie Christmas Park, which lets residents voice their disdain for the current cleanup plan.

Sarnoff said the city has reached out to the county and the property appraiser’s office to see if there can be some flexibility in terms of tagging the surrounding homes as being near a contaminated site.  Lago said he would do the same.

A public meeting will be held on Thursday to discuss the cleanup plan.  It is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Miami City Hall.

Sarnoff said residents’ fears of dangers posed by the park may be calmed after they hear from experts at Thursday evening’s meeting.  Environmental consultants have told the city burying the contaminated soil under two feet of new, clean earth, will render it harmless to people in the park or to the water supply.


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