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Shipyards 'not suitable for unrestricted usage'
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Shipyards 'not suitable for unrestricted usage'

Shipyards 'not suitable for unrestricted usage'
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

Shipyards 'not suitable for unrestricted usage'

Negotiations in to the future of the Jacksonville Shipyards are still ongoing, but we’re now getting a closer look at the environmental obstacles that stand in the way.

Mechling Engineering & Consulting, Inc. has spent several months performing a comprehensive site assessment of the roughly 45 acres of land on Jacksonville’s Downtown Northbank. The area was used for industrial and commercial activities dating back to the mid-1800s, and those activities have led varying levels and types of contamination. WOKV obtained a preliminary report, which showed widespread contamination. The full report now paints the fuller picture.

Environmental impact

Wells, soil, groundwater and more were all sampled and studied. In fact the report details hundreds of samples pulled from across the site, and it notes that contamination found at a specific test point may not be indicative of the area around that site because of the different activities that have taken place on the land and the different remediation efforts up to this point.

In terms of soil, the two “most commonly identified at elevated concentrations across the site” are lead and arsenic. Arsenic was found in concentrations which exceeded both residential standards on about half the locations sampled, and many of the locations also exceeded commercial standards. Lead topped not only residential and commercial standards, but in some cases exceeded other toxicity regulations as well.

A few other contaminants were noted as well. The report further found that material from the “Great Fire of 1901” in Downtown- including burnt wood- was likely used as fill material along the water front.

To help mitigate these contaminants over time, the Shipyards is supposed to have a two-foot thick soil cap, concrete cap, or asphalt cap toward the land surface. The report finds some limited areas where soil in the cap had some traces of the contaminants. Further, it says about 16% of the property doesn’t have the full cap. Additional testing on the site has shown “current conditions do not represent a significant risk to human health”, however the report further says “much of the soil on the property would not be suitable for unrestricted usage”.

Arsenic, antimony, benzene, and a few other contaminants were also found at higher concentrations in groundwater. Wells are relatively unaffected, with the report saying most were either properly closed, out of the path of contaminants, or too far from the contaminated sites.

Ongoing negotiations

Currently, the head of the Downtown Investment Authority is negotiating with Iguana Investments Florida LLC over redeveloping the Shipyards site. Iguana- led by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan- has envisioned a multi-use plan that incorporates office space, residential space, parks, and attractions like a multi-layer practice field and mooring for the USS Adams museum.

GALLERY: See Shad Khan's vision for the Jacksonville Shipyards

Because those talks are ongoing, the report recommends deferring the actual remediation plan for now. Different land uses- like residential v. commercial- have different remediation standards, and the City has previously indicated that they want to remediate to the level needed rather than in entirety in order to mitigate the cost.

Because of that, the potential bill to the City is still unknown. The City Council currently has close to $13 million held in a contingency account which is intended for use on the environmental remediation. Mayor Lenny Curry’s Capital Improvements proposal further recommends $17.5 million for FY 16-17 to address remediating the submerged lands at the site, which were not included in this study.

The initial redevelopment proposal for the site itself also had the City paying for improvements around the site and other terms. The scope of the project and how much the City would ultimately have to put on the line are the central points in the negotiations.

The City has declined to comment at this time, saying they’re still reviewing the results of the report. WOKV has reached out to the head of the DIA for his response, but we have not yet heard back. The DIA is scheduled to meet Wednesday, and the agenda indicates the CEO will give an update on the Shipyards, but the scope of that update is not immediately clear.

WOKV will be at Wednesday’s meeting. You’ll get instant updates on Twitter (@WOKVNews).

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