Pier project needs dirt — lots of it. But where should it come from?

A stockpile of excess soil being stored near Lake Maggiore has been cleared by a consultant and state environmental officials as safe for use in local projects, including the new pier. But the city has its doubts. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
A stockpile of excess soil being stored near Lake Maggiore has been cleared by a consultant and state environmental officials as safe for use in local projects, including the new pier. But the city has its doubts. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jan. 24, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — As work progresses on the city's new $76 million pier, officials have been tending to many details — some of them high-profile, like signature artwork, and others decidedly unglamorous, like dirt.

Truckloads of dirt.

To save money, the city hoped to reuse soil from excavation projects stockpiled in an area adjacent to Lake Maggiore Park, not just for the pier, but also for the new police training facility and shooting range at 1845 13th Ave. N.

But that plan is up in the air after a bureaucratic mix-up.

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After 16 truckloads of the Lake Maggiore soil had been dumped at the police training facility site, the city's engineering and capital improvements department declared the dirt unsafe. Tests, the department said, indicated that the soil exceeded allowable residential levels of the highly carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene.

In response, the city dug up the soil and trucked it back to the Lake Maggiore stockpile the same day, a back-and-forth operation that cost about $1,500.

The decision not to use the soil ran counter to a finding by Cardno, the Clearwater firm the city hired to test soils at both Lake Maggiore and the police training facility site. The purpose was to determine "their suitability" for use at the pier and other city projects.

In a letter dated Jan. 6, Cardno said tests conducted on soil near the northwest corner of Lake Maggiore, 3200 22nd St. S — southwest of Dell Homes Park — appeared to show it was "suitable for reuse as clean backfill."

What made the city decide otherwise?

Public works spokesman Bill Logan said further study by senior staff in engineering determined that Cardno was incorrect. The city also contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Logan said Cardno had based its report on revised rules, while the city made its decision on "still published" regulations. "We did it in an abundance of caution and to follow the regulations as we knew them to be at that point," he said.

However, DEP spokeswoman Shannon Herbon told the Tampa Bay Times that, based on Cardno's assessment, the soil was safe to be used.

As of this week, the city has not decided whether to use the Lake Maggiore soil for construction at the pier or the $6.2 million police training facility. Purchasing new soil will not push either project over budget, Logan said, adding that costs are already within the guaranteed maximum price contracts for both projects.

City architect Raul Quintana said the soil had been planned to backfill seawalls, for structural stabilization and under pavement. New soil would cost about $48,000.

The issue does not affect the landscaped areas of the new pier or any of the "lawn bowl" areas over the water that visitors would come in contact with. That soil will be provided by the landscapers.

RELATED: What artist Janet Echelman's Pier District sculpture would look like

St. Petersburg has been stockpiling soil at Lake Maggiore since the 1990s as part of its stormwater sewer system operation. The soil comes from stormwater ditch maintenance, excavations to access subterranean locations and from around water and sewer mains. It is normally used to fill in areas excavated for city utility projects in right-of-way areas and restoring eroded ditch banks.

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Herbon, the DEP spokeswoman, said department regulations require that the city "take measures to ensure the activities at the site do not impact the environment or nearby residents."

The Lake Maggiore site — the only soil stockpile in the city — is closed and "contained by berms to protect nearby waters," Herbon said. She also referred to the Cardno report showing that benzo(a)pyrene levels are "below both residential and commercial/industrial levels" and therefore there is "no threat to human health or the environment."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.