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Officials to discuss park plans, site cleanup

People who live near the abandoned Department of Public Works Compound on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard endured noise, congestion and pungent chemical odors for years.

Tonight county officials and residents will meet to discuss plans to turn the site into a community park. The site was abandoned last April when the DPW moved to its new E Jefferson Street home. The compound is now being cleaned up.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be attended by the Board of County Commissioners, Parks and Recreation Department officials and neighborhood leaders.

Among those leaders is local NAACP president Frankie Burnett, who urged the public to come and asked that government officials heed residents' wishes as development of the proposed park proceeds.

"I think it would really be sad if they missed the opportunity to do that for this community," Burnett said.

Completion of the park, if it does occur, is several years away.

An environmental cleanup firm is pumping groundwater contaminated with petroleum products from beneath about 900 square feet at the rear of the site. Once the fouled water is treated and the pollutants allowed to evaporate, then the water is disposed of.

The cleanup began more than a year ago and has cost about $300,000. County DPW director Charles Mixson said the work will continue for another year, give or take six months. The total cleanup cost could be as much as $600,000.

Before the park can be constructed, the state Department of Environmental Protection will have to determine whether the reduction in pollution levels is adequate to protect public health. The DEP said the pollution has not spread beyond the site.

But Burnett is unconvinced. He said he would like to see an independent assessment of the site's safety before allowing work on the park to start. He said he does not believe the DEP claim that the pollution is confined to the compound.

"You can't tell me that the pollution did not affect the surrounding area," Burnett said. "They can fool some people, but they cannot fool me."

In addition to assessing the environmental health of the site, another sticking point appears to be what features the park will offer.

A preliminary plan to be presented by Parks and Recreation Department director Pat Fagan includes basketball courts, a playground, a multipurpose athletic field and picnic pavilions. Fagan estimated the project will cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

Yet Burnett and others would like to see some kind of community building that could house activities such as tutoring programs for area youth.

Fagan said the ultimate scope of the project is up to county commissioners, but he feels the activities center at Kennedy Park is adequate to serve community needs. Also, a building may not fit well at the relatively small park site, he said.

One possibility, Fagan said, is to renovate an existing structure now at the compound.

Burnett said it would be best for those who live in the area to determine what is needed and for those who do not to listen.

"For a number of years," he said, "that did not happen in this community."

_ Will Van Sant can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.

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