Manatee commission approves building new Little League fields in Palmetto

MANATEE — The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday OK’d an estimated $3.3 million plan calling for construction of long-delayed Little League ballfields in Palmetto.

The commission settled on an option that calls for three, regulation-sized ballfields; a parking lot; a press box; concession building; bleachers; sidewalks; and lighting at Blackstone Field, east and north of existing Blackstone Park softball fields.

The new fields, designed to accommodate the North River American Little League, are expected to take approximately 22 months to build, county documents said.

The county plans to mitigate chemical pollution from previous farming of the land by removing the top layer of existing soil, hauling it to the Lena Road landfill, and exchanging it for clean fill that will serve as a buffer, according to Cindy Turner, county director of parks and recreation.

“This eliminates direct exposure from the chemicals on the old farming operation to visitors of the new park,” a description of the plan said.

The city of Palmetto has agreed to contribute $800,000 toward the cost of the new ballfields, with county park impact fees and community partnerships providing the rest of the money, county documents said. The annual operating cost of the new facilitiy was estimated at $98,670.

For about four years, the Little League has been playing at two adult softball fields at Blackstone Park after Palmetto officials sold its previous home to the county school board for a new elementary school.

County staff members evaluated two scenarios this summer: Remediating land near Blackstone Park; or building new softball fields at Bennett Park in East Manatee, and relocating adult players to that location, and then converting Blackstone’s two softball fields into Little League fields.

The latter would have cost a couple hundred thousand dollars more, and would have required about 25 months to complete, officials said.Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her at Twitter@Sarawrites.com.