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Landfill next obstacle to Nats/Astros spring complex

Houston AstrosThe proposed site of a new Washington Nationals/Houston Astros spring training complex isn’t exactly pristine — sitting atop a former landfill — and cleaning things up will be a prime challenge before any new facility can open.

There’s a proud tradition in the baseball world about building ballparks on top of former trash heaps: ballparks were usually built on cheap plots of land on the edge or squarely within industrial areas. Witness Ed Smith Stadium, now the sparkling spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. Before it was renovated, it served as spring home of the Cincinnati Reds, and it was during that time reports surfaced about the tops of tin drums making their way to the dirt floors of the dugouts. (Yes, the site was cleaned up during the ballpark renovations.)

So brownfield issues with the Palm Beach County site are challenging, but not insurmountable. There is one huge issue: despite the official records listing the yard waste buried at the site, it’s clear from test drillings that much more ended up there, like chemicals, so there will be plenty of surprises once the actual cleanup begins. From the Palm Beach Post:

Most of the buried waste is made up of domestic yard trash collected by the city from about 1965 to the early 1990s, before the landfill was formally closed in 1997. But test pits dug in December reveal lots of other debris, too — tires, hunks of rusted metal and old furniture dumped over the years in violation of state permits.

The Astros and Nationals will have a better estimate of the cleanup costs later this spring after their engineering firm, URS Corp., finishes an evaluation of the land north of the M-Canal between Haverhill Road and Military Trail….

“There is no reason for us to believe that there is going to be a problem that is insurmountable,’’ said Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros. “But it will cost a lot of money to get this ready to go.’’

Up to $10 million, according to estimates. As noted, the records are a little unclear about exactly what’s located in the landfill, but a good general rule of thumb is to assume the worst and then go further from there. That includes things like PCB compounds: nasty chemicals used as electrical insulation back in the day. The teams are slated to bear the cost of the cleanup, but there are public sources of brownfield remediation funding available. In any case, this site would need to be cleaned up no matter what source of development took place.

The county has already approved $108 million in hotel/motel taxes toward the project, with $50 million requested from the state from a fund dedicated to new and improved sports facilities. The term sheet covers the following:

  • Palm Beach County will finance the project with $135 million in bonds, mostly backed by $108 million from the county’s bed tax. Palm Beach County will also pay $5 million toward planning and preconstruction costs.
  • The state will be asked to pay $2 million a year for 25 years.
  • The lease from the two teams will yield $2.2 million a year for eight years; presumably this number will be adjusted, as the Nats and ‘Stros are signing a 30-year lease.
  • The teams will commit to a 12.2-acre city park as part of the project.

The Nationals currently train at Viera’s Space Coast Stadium and Carl Barger Complex, while the Astros train at Osceola County Stadium. Getting a team back into West Palm Beach has ramifications past the two teams. Right now there are four teams — Washington, the Mets, St. Louis and Miami — training on Florida’s Treasure Coast. If that number dips to three, those remaining teams have out clauses in their spring-complex leases, freeing them to move elsewhere. A new West Palm Beach complex keeps spring training on the Treasure Coast for decades to come.

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