Orioles push Sarasota for ballpark fixes
SARASOTA - As the costs of an environmental cleanup at Ed Smith Stadium reach $1 million, the Baltimore Orioles are saying the city of Sarasota needs to pitch in more money. The Orioles last week requested $420,000 to improve poor drainage at its spring training practice fields, a problem the team blames on an old city dump buried beneath the facility. City Manager Bob Bartolotta says the Orioles are "trying to make a convoluted argument" to get the city to pay for field upgrades that should have come from a $24 million stadium renovation funded by taxpayers. Bartolotta questioned the $420,000 expense in an email, and now the city, the Orioles and Sarasota County are calling in their lawyers. It is the biggest dispute yet among the three parties over terms of the $31.2 million overall spring training deal they approved in 2009.This one could end up in court. Money for the renovations came mostly from hotel tax revenue, but the deal also requires the city to pay for environmental cleanup of the dump site. The city contributed $1 million, money that came from state funds earmarked for the stadium. If the team gets its way, the city would have to come up with more. "The Orioles see this pot of money," Bartolotta said, "And they're thinking 'Gee, it would be nice ...' " The Orioles organization declined comment as it tries to negotiate the scope of the cleanup with the city and Sarasota County. In response to Bartolotta's email, Orioles lawyer Alan Rifkin wrote that the team and its environmental consultants think the "less costly or intrusive alternatives suggested by the city" will not cover the entire cost of the cleanup. "No reasonable person could dispute" that the drainage problems are related either directly or indirectly to the underground dump, and the practice field with the worst drainage had to be closed last spring because of the drainage problems, the team says. The Orioles are calling for that field to be rebuilt and fitted with a system of underground pipes at a cost of about $415,000. The team is also calling for a geotechnical analysis to see if the three other practice fields at the 53-acre ballpark on 12th Street and Tuttle Avenue need drainage systems. City Commissioner Terry Turner said the dispute is exactly the kind of thing he was concerned about when he voted against the deal in 2009. At that time, Turner and former Commissioner Kelly Kirschner warned about the unknown costs of the cleanup. "It was my concern that we'd be on the hook for any potential claims the Orioles chose to make," said Turner. Last December, the city and county signed off on a $975,000 cleanup plan — more than $500,000 of it to drain an underground plume of water polluted with vinyl chloride, a compound used to manufacture plastic. For two decades, the city has monitored the groundwater, which also has high levels of iron, manganese and sodium. Granting the Orioles' request would mean leaving the plume where it is, Bartolotta says, and the city would still pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year to monitor the plume. "We don't want to continue to monitor it for the next 50 years," Bartolotta said. "We were going to pump that water out and treat it at the sewage treatment plant. Over a three- to five-year period, that contaminated water would disappear, and the problem is fixed." With just three months left before spring training, the Orioles are asking everyone to hurry. The team says any work on the fields needs to be completed by the end of the year.