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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 5 years ago

City, Orioles discuss stadium dispute

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

City officials and Baltimore Orioles officials are still in discussion about $1 million and for what it can be used at Ed Smith Stadium.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta said Tuesday’s discussion is likely the first of several discussions that need to be held about the issue and to prevent litigation.

The Baltimore Orioles made it known last week in emails from its attorneys that a big chunk of the $1 million set aside for field mitigation issues should be used to tear up an AstroTurf practice field that doesn’t drain properly, build a new drainage system underneath it and re-sod the site before the Orioles take the field this spring.

The city, meanwhile, points to an agreement that states the $1 million can only be used to clean and treat contaminated water under a landfill that sits more than 2 feet underground where Ed Smith Stadium currently sits.

“We had a frank discussion and outlined all of our issues,” Bartolotta said. “Baltimore has promised to get us more information about exact costs for the drainage problem and how they believe it relates to the landfill mitigation funds.”

The city and Sarasota County entered into several interlocal agreements in 2009 and 2010, when the $30 million spring-training complex was approved. The parties outlined the transfer of Ed Smith Stadium to the county under a number of conditions. It included an agreement that $1 million the county owed the city would be placed in an environmental reserve account to be used to clean up the remains of an old landfill that sits under the stadium.

Baltimore Orioles representatives, however, sent emails to city staff last week, explaining they believe the money should be used to fund a stormwater improvement project they believe falls under the cleanup guidelines in the agreement.

Bartolotta, meanwhile, in an email he sent to commissioners Nov. 8, said the city “strongly objects to the use of the funds for that purpose.

“In our opinion, this use is not environmental mitigation but rather ordinary capital operation/maintenance or capital improvements, which should be the responsibility of the county/Orioles,” Bartolotta wrote. “To expend these funds on installing stormwater drains and rebuilding practice fields would deplete the mitigation fund and, thus, leave no money for actual cleanup. This is not in keeping with the letter or spirit of the interlocal agreement.”

Bartolotta said those types of upgrades should have been done as part of a $24 million ballfield renovation that taxpayers approved two years ago. That renovation came from hotel bed tax revenues.
Vice Mayor Terry Turner agrees with Bartolotta’s assessment of the conflict.

“They have a small maintenance problem on the field and rather than deal with the maintenance problem, they want to take on a big capital project that will require a lot of mediation,” Turner said. “If we were to do this, we would use up the remediation money we would use to clean up the wells underneath.”

The dispute has caught city officials by surprise. Bartolotta said the city was getting ready to use the money to pump the wells and treat the contaminated water and thought all parties were on the same page until he received the e-mails this month.

“We were looking forward to moving forward with the pumping process as soon as possible,” Bartolotta said.

If the city agrees to the Orioles’ request, Bartolotta argues there won’t be enough money left in the fund to treat the contaminated water that sits underneath the fields.

“If the water can’t be treated, the city will be stuck paying $50,000 a year to keep monitoring the site and make sure it wasn’t moving,” Bartolotta said. “The goal was to pump out the water over a five-year period and be done with this.”

The Orioles, meanwhile, are hoping the city will agree to the new project and have it completed by the end of the year. The suggested cost is approximately $415,000.

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