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Toytown developers want more time to study landfill before building

Environmental hazards at the Toytown landfill could lay waste to hopes of building a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium at the mid Pinellas site.

The old landfill made the speculative list of potential sites because of its central location and considerable size.

But building atop the 240-acre landfill would mean drilling pilings through an aging stew of waste to reach clay — while avoiding a rupture into the aquifer below.

Adding a massive stadium could require deeper pilings into the clay, closer to the limestone and aquifer that feeds into Tampa Bay, said Bob Hauser, the county's solid waste director.

"We don't like to see penetrations through that," Hauser said.

So far, the development group hired by the county, led by Bear Creek Capital of Ohio, has not included plans for a new stadium at the site. And its initial plans specifically avoid the risk of putting pilings deep into the clay.

But the group also has yet to nail down its best option after spending the past year studying the site's geology and building opportunities.

The developer instead will ask the Pinellas County Commission today for another year to study how to pull off the $1 billion project that calls for offices, stores and housing on northeastern edge of St. Petersburg near Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard. Construction is slated to start in 2013.

Bear Creek Capital blamed the need for more time on the economic downturn, according to a report to the county in May. Another factor cited was uncertainty about development regulations.

But February news reports indicated the company was pulling back from projects because of money trouble. And local consultants said they hadn't been paid.

Transportation consultant Jerry Dabkowski threatened in early May to call out the company at a commission meeting because he hadn't been paid $6,000 for his work. On Monday, he said he had received the full $6,000, though 11 months late. Lobbyist Todd Pressman also went unpaid for months but said he has resolved the problem.

"We're very comfortable they're in a good financial position — well, as good as any developer can be in this market," said county economic development director Mike Meidel, noting his agency reviewed the company's finances and legal situation.

Bear Creek Capital officials did not answer requests for comment.

Meidel, Hauser and state officials said no meetings about the environmental aspects of adding a stadium have taken place. The developer's May report doesn't mention a stadium. But Meidel said the makeup of Toytown's future isn't locked in, though adding a ballpark would be a significant change.

The landfill has a mix of sludge, trash and brush added from 1961 to 1984 before being closed in 1990. A 20-year-old slurry wall protects the mixture of rainwater and waste from seeping away. But the site requires county monitoring.

In fact, the county has to reinforce the slurry walls and the drain system to meet state environmental standards. The development plan counts on the county paying for that roughly $3 million project. Hauser said the improvements need to be done anyway.

"Right now it's a stable situation, and it's being managed that way," Hauser said. "Once you go in and start disturbing that landfill, there's a lot of work to make sure you don't cause an environmental problem."

Even without a stadium, builders would need to relocate and level 750,000 cubic yards of trash, then add up to 1 million tons of clean dirt to isolate the waste. They estimate that work alone could take a year.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Toytown developers want more time to study landfill before building 06/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 2:03pm]
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