BRADENTON -- Manatee County Commissioners voted Tuesday to revisit what has been an ongoing struggle to bring Little League baseball back into full swing in the City of Palmetto. The proposal, presented by Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker at Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting, is a $3.3 million land reclamation and construction of three ballfields, with bleachers, a press box and concession facilities.
It's been over four years since little leaguers willingly said goodbye to their old field so Manatee County Schools could build a new elementary school on those grounds. In return, they would get a new field that would meet the criteria needed to entertain tournaments and playoffs. They would get a parking lot and sidewalks along with the other amenities promised in the new deal.
But the promises stalled and the plans faded into fiscal hardships, then it was discovered the dirt where the fields were to be built was contaminated with arsenic. No one claimed to have knowledge of the toxins that laid dormant and neglected as did the history of the property.
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The site for the new fields is the Blackstone Park in Palmetto. The plan, chosen over an alternative one that would have moved the current adult softball fields at Blackstone to Bennett Park and constructed the new one where they were -- would have been more expensive and took longer to complete. Since promised a new ball park in 2009, the North River American Little league has been forced to play on those two adult softball fields at Blackstone.
It was back in February of this year when Palmetto Mayor Shirley Grover Bryant took an $800,000 check to the Manatee BOCC hoping to kickstart the forgotten pledge. But Deputy County Attorney Bill Clague quickly called foul ball and persuaded Manatee County Commissioners to turn Bryant away.
Later it turned out the ground was contaminated, which is not easy to explain to a 11 year old who's growing out of his spikes, and as it turned out, not easy to explain to the adults either. At that point, both Manatee County and the City of Palmetto renewed their commitment.
Monday night at the Palmetto City Commission meeting, commissioners decided to return to the BOCC, curious to see if the anomalous press release, sent out just days before revealing the new plan, was sincere or highbrow political rhetoric.
With criticism as to the way the whole fiasco has been handled to date, and elections nearing, Palmetto commissioners were not eager to return to another disappointing ceremony. This time they didn't go with the check in-hand, but did go with a commitment to live up to their end of the bargain.
At Tuesday's BOCC meeting, Palmetto Mayor Bryant sat and listened as BOCC Chairman John Chappie piled innuendo on top of innuendo designed to pressure Mayor Bryant into returning with the check in-hand.
The $800,000 previously offered to Manatee from the Palmetto mayor, played an even larger role now. Recently, the BOCC had refused their Sheriff's Department and their EMS a pay increase after six years without any.
Manatee commissioner Larry Bustle, who staged the press release at McKechnie field announcing the new $3.3 million dollar Little League commitment, did before the entire BOCC was briefed, bringing additional controversy to the whole process.
Mayor Bryant agreed she would take the request back to the Palmetto Commission, saying she believes that they too remain committed, and the BOCC voted unanimously to approve the plan. The champaign cork will remain in the bottle until a few hurdles are behind them all.
The county claims the two feet of dirt will be removed for less than $50,000. That would be hard to confirm until the report of just how much contamination is actually there has been released, and it has not. The county still hasn't stated clearly where the money will come from. A few of the county accounts have been mentioned, but little is clear there too. We all can just hope by 2014 there is the sound of the crack form a bat echoing through the cool Palmetto air.
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