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Manatee officials halt plans to build Little League fields near Blackstone Park in Palmetto

MANATEE — Manatee County officials have suggested halting plans to construct Little League ball fields at Blackstone Park in Palmetto due to “unfavorable land conditions” resulting from farming activities in the past.

Ed Hunzeker, county administrator, said that earlier this year the county offered land to the city of Palmetto for the fields and to manage them. The city would pay for construction costs, he said.

“Before entering into agreement we thought we should do due diligence on the land to see if there was a problem,” Hunzeker said. “And we have done that, and results are that there are some problems with the dirt, residual pesticide from farming.”

Hunzeker said remediating the land would increase the estimated cost to about $3.3 million. That amount included the removal of truckloads of contaminated dirt, addition of new dirt, project design, permitting, and construction, he said.

Initial estimates were $2 million and Palmetto only had $800,000 for the project, according to Hunzeker.

“There will probably be people who will disagree with me, but this is our best professional estimate,” Hunzeker said.

Hunzeker said it was his understanding that the pesticide residue did not pose a threat to those who visit the park.

“What I’ve heard is that there’s no requirement to remediate unless you plan on constructing something there,” Hunzeker said. “I suspect there’s no problem walking over it, it’s just when you start constructing that you create more problems ... when you start constructing is when you disturb the soil.”

Derek Goforth, president of the North River American Little League, said the news was “totally disappointing, that’s for sure.”

“It seems to be a very bleak day for the Little League, without the fields being built we don’t know where we are going from here,” he said.

Goforth said the league has been playing at the two adult softball fields at Blackstone Park for about four years now, ever since they lost its previous site.

The league used to play on 10th Street West but relocated after Palmetto sold that land to the school district for the new Palmetto Elementary School.

The league has 18 teams and has lost more than 100 players in the past years due to the lack of appropriate fields, Goforth said.

“We hope the city and county don’t say, ‘Well, we tried,’ and that’s the end of it,” said Goforth.

Hunzeker said he would now meet with Palmetto’s mayor to discuss other possible options.

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