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pinion In Palmetto, Little League has Big Problems


BRADENTON -- There's trouble in paradise for America's pastime. If you're a young ballplayer and live north of the river, the outlook for a permanent field just got worse. It's not just the ground in the proposed site that's contaminated, it's the grounds by which adults placed their promises and are now defending action and inaction alike. There are enough who "didn't know" to go around, and if the grown-ups want to demonstrate some of the virtues indoctrinated through sport, like fairness and teamwork, they need to step up to the plate.  

Kids that used to cry, waiting for "Play Ball" to be announced, are now old enough to understand why, and expect accountability. Adults that knew of environmental problems with the soil, but claim to have been ignorant of the severity, can't call foul or dodge accountability. The horror story could have been having the umpire calling a slide into home plate as "safe," when many would have known that the young runner also ate some arsenic-laden dust. 

It remains troubling to imagine that anyone who even thought there was a possibility of "poison on the field," would have any other objective than finding-out, before going forward with artist renditions and concession locations. As assistant county attorney Bill Clague put it, "Anywhere there has been farming over a long period of time, there is a good possibility of contamination." 

Findings from the Phase l Environmental Site Inspection in 2010, lend plenty of reasons to believe that a comprehensive study of the complete property was essential. This is a ball field, not a parking-lot, and on a ball field the kids come home wearing the dirt. 

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino and Commissioner Michael Gallen weighed in on the ball-park discussion at Tuesday's BOCC meeting, both asking why this problem was not front and center from the get-go. Clague answered, "We weren't sure to just how much was there." Clague did know that pesticides, herbicides and arsenic had been found on adjacent property, and that the previous uses which caused the problem on that property, were performed on the proposed ball park site as well. 

For decades, Manatee Fruit had run a grapefruit grove on the land, and history has shown that such an operation is almost synonymous with arsenic-contaminated soil. The property was acquired from a very complicated land swap with the the Manatee School Board, who was developing a site for the new Palmetto Elementary on the old Little League grounds. Commissioner Joe McClash suggested, "Someone there knew this and didn't say anything."

McClash recommended a second opinion from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and Clague rushed to the podium and said, "If you report it to them, they could come to a different conclusion, and it may cost us serious money." DiSabatino jumped in, "Keeping it from the FDEP is out of the question" and Gallen, an attorney himself, quickly agreed.

There is no road to be taken here, but to follow the right path. The oversights and compliances have taken their toll. Both Manatee County and the City of Palmetto need to recognize that both entities own the problem, and no matter what the cost, it is far cheaper than if they had continued forward and built the park on contaminated ground.


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