No contamination on possible new county park site

kwadlow@keynoter.comOctober 19, 2013 

Supporters of buying the Rowell's Marina property for a waterfront park on Key Largo got news, both good and disquieting, at Wednesday's meeting of the Monroe County Commission.

Commissioners voted, 4-1, to sign a $5 million purchase agreement for the eight-acre site on Florida Bay, but still can back away from the deal before Jan. 31.

County staff reported that one primary concern -- possible environmental contamination from previous use as a commercial marina -- does not appear to be a problem.

A "Phase 1" environmental assessment found "no present significant or recognizable environmental concerns observed on the site," relayed County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

An old underground fuel tank lies buried at the property but state regulatory officials confirm records showing the tank was lawfully cleaned and filled with concrete for a proper abandonment about two decades ago, Gastesi said.

Finding few problems, the environmental consultant did not recommend conducting a more extensive Phase 2 assessment, which includes tests for soil contamination.

Commissioners are holding off on final approval of the Rowell's purchase until Gastesi delivers a "business plan" showing that space rental for community events and other income can fund improvements and operation.

Funding the $5 million purchase of Rowell's also could prove problematic after commissioners voted to increase the cost of the Lower Keys sewer system by a projected $10 million.

Both the wastewater system and park purchase are listed among needed projects on the county's capital-improvement plan, largely funded by a special sales tax.

If that fund is tapped for all sewer upgrades, said county Mayor George Neugent, "We may be very close to killing Rowell's Marina."

Key Largo community groups strongly support buying the nearly vacant waterfront property for both Florida Bay access and use as site for benefit festivals and events.

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