At long last, a solution to the lack of youth ballfields in Palmetto appears to be at hand with this week's unveiling of a solid plan. Manatee County commissioners now hold the future of North River American Little League in their hands.
This issue has been batted around for four years, long enough for many young players to age out of the league. The North River American Little League graciously agreed to surrender its old ballfields to pave the way for the new Palmetto Elementary School.
The city of Palmetto sold the land to the Manatee County school district for construction of the new school. Manatee County agreed to work with both entities in replacing the ballfields.
The league believed it had a "guarantee" the new fields would be completed by the spring of 2009 when talks about the land sale first began. With Little League teams then scattered to various sites, registration plunged by 35 percent that fall season.
Then the opening of new fields appeared to be set for the spring of 2010, but the initial site proved problematic and ultimately unworkable over a costly street realignment.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year when school board member Bob Gause, a former North River American Little League president, expressed fears that the organization would cease operations without ballfields appropriate for youth. Teams have been playing on adult softball fields at county-owned Blackstone Park.
But plans were then set in motion to build Little League ballfields at Blackstone -- except, as if completely jinxed, the project encountered yet another setback this May. Residual pesticides from past farming were uncovered with costly removal of the contaminated dirt required by the state. The project's estimated cost ballooned from $2 million to $3.3 million. Once again, officials began casting about for yet another site.
At that time, North River league president Derek Goforth described the development a "very bleak day for Little League." Indeed it was.
Goforth also articulated a very valid point: "We feel our kids deserve the same facilities that every other kid in Manatee County deserves."
Which brings us to this week's announcement that three new Little League ballfields, concession stands and more would be constructed at Blackstone with opening day in the fall of 2014 -- should Manatee County commissioners approve the plan at their Sept. 11 meeting. Officials opted to remediate the contaminated Blackstone land as the least expensive and quickest alternative.
The political will to solve this dilemma finally appears poised on the horizon. Still, with the history of this long saga a case study in frustration with government, Goforth expressed a bit of hesitation in his remarks: "I'm ecstatic about it. ... Once we see dirt moving, that's when we'll really be thrilled."
One can only agree with that sentiment. Commissioners, bless this project with your approval.