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    Report: Future spring-training site gleams

    An environmental coordinator said the former landfill earmarked for the Philadelphia Phillies is "almost so clean it squeaks.''

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- The former landfill site that St. Petersburg Junior College is giving to Clearwater for a new Philadelphia Phillies spring training complex seems free of serious environmental problems, according to a city report released Friday.

    City administrators say that the results clear the way for the city to take ownership of the land from the college.

    "For a landfill, it came back almost so clean it squeaks," said Karma Killian, the city's environmental programs coordinator. "We looked for arsenic, oil, diesel, pesticides -- you name it. We didn't know what we were going to find there. But we found nothing."

    Before giving Clearwater the land, SPJC granted the city several months to perform a limited battery of tests to make sure there would be no costly environmental cleanup associated with the gift.

    The City Commission approved the transaction barring major environmental problems. The 32-acre tract, a former Pinellas County landfill that is home to city baseball and soccer fields, lies northwest of Drew Street and U.S. 19.

    "We believe this report gives us the green light to go forward," said Keith Ashby, the city administrator tasked with acquiring the land.

    The city has worked for months to line up funding and negotiate a deal with the Phillies to use the Drew Street land for the team's new spring-training complex, which will cost at least $22-million.

    The general terms already are agreed upon: The city will chip in at least $5-million and the Phillies at least $3-million to build the complex. State and county funding would cover the rest -- assuming the state approves its share next month.

    The City Commission still has to give its final approval to the series of documents sealing the deal, beginning this month.

    Tampa Bay Engineering, which investigated the proposed stadium site for the city, began by digging through records for past complaints about the landfill, which was closed in the 1960s. Nothing serious turned up.

    Then the consultants made 41 borings into the landfill's top 30 feet to see whether it contained anything that would require a special cleanup effort.

    They found two needles and what appeared to be hospital intravenous tubing, which caused some concern. But mostly the results showed benign debris such as glass, paper, metaland wood.

    Six wells also were installed on the landfill's perimeter and in its center to determine whether the groundwater in the area showed any signs of pollution. The results showed water of "miraculous" quality, considering it was under a landfill, Ashby said.

    The city has spent about $126,000 on studies and attorneys to investigate the possible Phillies stadium site, Ashby said. Once the city acquires the land, testing will continue to make sure it can support a stadium.

    The Phillies will pay for up to $15,000 of geotechnical testing, which involves drilling up to 100 feet down to investigate whether the land is prone to sinkholes and what kind of foundation a stadium would need.

    "It's really important from our perspective to know exactly what's there," said John Timberlake, the Phillies' director of Florida operations.

    If the land can't support a stadium, the city would look for an alternative site, possibly Carpenter Field, said interim City Manager Bill Horne. Then the 32 acres from SPJC would continue to be used for soccer and baseball fields.

    The city likely will pursue some additional environmental testing, digging up broader swaths of the landfill and probably removing the contents to another disposal location, officials said.

    More testing also might be done to check levels of methane gas, which is released as garbage decomposes, and to test an area of the landfill where some old drums were found.

    The Phillies have agreed to pay for the first $250,000 of any cleanup and site preparation work needed at the site, with the city footing bill for the next $250,000 in expenses.

    The city will have to start spending its $250,000 early to pay for the additional work at the site that administrators say is environmental testing they are obligated to do.

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