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Ill-conceived landfill plan begets smoke

April 6, 1990

In North Dade, the Munisport landfill is burning, and has been for weeks.

The city of North Miami can't put the fire out because it doesn't have a fire department. Dade County, which has the trucks, apparently doesn't do underground fires.

The adjacent city of North Miami Beach, which is getting smoked out, is now considering a lawsuit to force somebody to extinguish the blaze. It doesn't seem like too much to ask, but this is Munisport, where nothing is simple.

To begin with, it wasn't supposed to be a dump.

Twenty years ago North Miami bought a 350-acre tract from the county with the promise that the land would be used for public recreation. The purchase was financed with a $12 million bond issue, which the taxpayers of North Miami are still paying off.

The original plan called for a swimming pool, tennis courts and two municipal golf coursesrolling emerald hills. Trouble was, no natural hills could be found. So North Miami agreed to allow the developer, Munisport Inc., to dump so-called "clean" fill to raise the elevation to a level suitable for golfers.

As it turned out, what got dumped in the landfill was not always cleanacetone, hospital waste, veterinary remains, chemical drums and, by some accounts, Freon and asbestos.

The perils should have been obvious. Munisport sits next to Florida International University and the Oleta River State Recreation Area. Heavy rains could leach toxins from the landfill into public watersand that's exactly what happened.

Dumping continued day and night, and hills of waste rose majestically. Years passed, but not a single verdant fairway materialized.

In March 1976, Munisport and the city of North Miami received an after-the-fact permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill 291 acres for a "recreational" facility. Mangroves were to be destroyed. Garbage was to be piled in 103 acres of wetlands.

Lots of people in North Dade got upset. So did the Environmental Protection Agency, and in 1981 it vetoed the Corps permit.

Later Munisport was found to be so contaminated that it was placed on the EPA Superfund cleanup list, and that's where the battle has simmered for years.

The city of North Miamiwhose negligence and bungling created the fiascohas insisted the landfill really isn't so bad. A high-powered Washington law firm was hired to lobby congressmen into pressuring the EPA to lay off.

North Miami said the state was perfectly capable of cleaning the dump without federal supervision. City officials wanted Munisport "de-listed" from the Superfund so it could be sold and developed. Yes, developed.

At City Hall there was talk that Hyatt was interested in building a high-rise hotel on the Munisport site (probably as soon as they finished the Hyatt Chernobyl).

Meanwhile the EPA was reporting that the lakes on the dump site showed excessive levels of cyanide and ammonia. The mangroves were tainted with lead and silver. The fish had arsenic and PCBs in levels that posed a cancer risk to human beings. Aquatic life in north Biscayne Bay was threatened by the contaminated runoff.

North Miami's answer to this nauseating litany was to threaten to sue EPA.

On March 18, EPA finally recommended a plan to remove the ammonia from the wetlands at Munisport. Some environmentalists say the proposal is inadequate because it leaves the state with the most crucial taskcleaning up the landfill itself.

Before that can happen, somebody will have to get a hose and put out the fire.

Everyone agrees that Munisport should be cleaned up immediately. The questions are: Who pays for itand who decides when it's really safe.

Maybe some day it will be a golf course, just like they promised 20 years ago. They can always sell gas masks in the pro shop.

Feds must save wetlands from development November 19, 1986 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Key plan shows just how low developers go February 13, 1991