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Property investor claims St. Pete ignored agreement to cleanup contaminated soil

The company claims the city’s delay is costing it “millions of dollars.”

An investment company is suing the city of St. Petersburg over contaminated land it owns in the city’s Gateway district near Gandy Boulevard.

Dorchester Holdings, LLC and its President, David Freeman, allege the city broke its agreement to remove contaminated soil from the property located on North Gandy Boulevard. 

According to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Pinellas County court, the city agreed to remove 76 million pounds of arsenic-contaminated “muck” that was dumped on the property in 2004 as part of a cleanup project at Lake Maggiore in South St. Pete. Trucks transported dredged sediment from the lake and transported it to two locations — a sod farm and the Gateway property Dorchester Holdings now owns. 

The city knew the soil was contaminated, but tests done on site at the time showed safe levels for residential distributing, according to the Tampa Bay Times

Attorneys for Dorchester Holdings claim the dumped the muck on the property before receiving Florida Department of Environmental Protection approval. The federal Environmental Protection Agency classifies arsenic as a Group-A carcinogen.

City Council agreed in early April to an agreement that required no cash to change hands, but required the city to dispose of the contaminated materials. 

According to the Dorchester lawsuit, the city had until July 1 to complete the cleanup, but has not done any work on the site. 

Dorchester first brought the issue to the city’s attention in 2017 when another company, RBF Properties, began planning a mixed-use development on the site. Freeman manages both Dorchester and RBF.

“For the past two years, we’ve tried to work in good faith with Mayor [Rick] Kriseman and the City of St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the City never responded to us and blatantly disregarded the agreement, leaving us no choice but to file the lawsuit,” Freeman said in a statement.

Freeman said he informed the city they were in breach of the agreement before he filed suit. 

Kriseman’s Communications Director, Ben Kirby, said he can confirm the dirt is still on the Dorchester property, but couldn’t comment further until the city’s legal staff was able to review the lawsuit. 

A request for correspondence between the city and Dorchester, RBF or Freeman is pending. 

Dorchester claims to have made the property available to the city for cleanup several times over the past two years and that the company is “currently unable to sell, lease, or develop the property due to the city’s contaminated material on the property.”

The company claims the city’s delay is costing it “millions of dollars.”

“We’ve tried everything to resolve this matter out of court, including my contacting the Mayor personally when we didn’t receive any responses from the City. Mayor Kriseman never responded to my request for a meeting,” Freeman said. “We filed suit to get a court order requiring Mayor Kriseman and the City to get the contaminated muck off our property and pay our damages. I hope they finally dispose of it safely, but given the City’s track record, the community should pay close attention on how the City handles itself.”

Without comment from the city, it’s unclear why they have not followed through with plans to clean the property despite agreeing to do so. However, disposing of that amount of contaminated material would be a difficult logistical undertaking and a complaint in a lawsuit only represents one side of the story. 

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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