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Arsenic In The Soil: A Bargaining Chip For David Beckham's Miami Soccer Stadium?

The Miami site where David Beckham and his business partners want to build a Major League Soccer stadium and $1B mixed-use complex is tainted with arsenic and other pollutants, an environmental analysis has found. 

An updated rendering of Miami Freedom Park.

The team says it intends to clean the site and move forward, while skeptics predicted the team will use the environmental findings to reduce what it pays for the land it's acquiring from the city.

Beckham’s InterMiami MLS team is scheduled to start playing its first games in Fort Lauderdale next year while it builds a 28,000-seat stadium with a hotel, offices, a shopping complex and a 58-acre park in Miami. However, the team is still negotiating with Miami over a 99-year land lease.

The intended site is the Melreese Golf Course, a city-owned property that had been a site for dumping toxic incinerator ash before being transformed for golf in 1960.

Team executives have long known that the site was contaminated and pledged $35M toward cleanup. The Miami Herald reported yesterday that a new environmental analysis, commissioned by the soccer team, found the site to be “far more toxic than previously expected, with arsenic contamination levels reaching more than twice the legal limit and surface-level soil samples containing debris that poses a 'physical hazard.'” 

The site was found to have twice the allowable limit for arsenic, as well as barium and lead levels beyond legal limits. Debris like tile and concrete was also found. Following disclosure of the report yesterday, Miami closed the golf course.

The county Department of Environmental Resources Management did some of its own testing, and a DERM official told the Herald that the findings were not earth-shattering. The city will hire, and InterMiami has agreed to pay for, another consultant to do even more testing, after which a cleanup plan will be formulated.

Some critics found yesterday's report and site closure suspicious, as golfers, including children, have been playing there for decades. Officials have been aware of soil problems since at least 2005 and even spent millions of dollars cleaning up a neighboring site for a public water park. The golf course underwent multimillion-dollar renovations in 1997 and again in 2014.

Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes wondered if Beckham's business partners would use the environmental report to drive down the price of the land.

“What I want to know is if it is something that’s been done as a tactic to devalue the land," he told the Herald. "Then they can claim they will have to pay less."

Miami developer Gary Ressler on Twitter called the contamination report "a truly Miami-made, & wholly feasible conspiracy theory." A local journalist, Blanca Mesa, pointed out other instances where city sites were shuttered, only to be followed by redevelopment schemes. Filmmaker Billy Corben said the mayor "works for rich developers, not his constituents."

The yearslong process of finding a stadium site has been marked by secrecy, last-minute votes, insider lobbying and the city circumventing its own competitive bidding rules to accommodate the team.

Some critics have said that the soccer team is being used by Beckham's partners to get city-owned real estate at a steal. If a Miami stadium is built, only a limited number of pro matches would be played there per year, while certain operations, training and youth development would continue at the Fort Lauderdale site.

If environmental cleanup in Miami exceeds $35M — and the team has indicated costs are closer to $50M — the team could look to taxpayers for the rest. 

The stadium lease deal is expected to be revealed next month and later voted upon by the city commission.