Forest Hill officials had big dreams that Griggs Park would be a gathering place for the community, with new play equipment, ballfields, picnic areas, and an amphitheater for concerts and other events.
But the city has faced one hurdle after another in turning officials' dreams for the park into a reality.
Last year, Forest Hill lost an outdoor recreation grant of almost $500,000 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department because the land that was to be donated and that the city hoped to use as its match in the grant was appraised at $32,000, far lower than the $360,000 listed in the grant application.
Developer Meto Miteff promised to donate 3 acres from his Rosecrest Estates development and submitted a statement valuing it at $320,000 to $375,000. But the city never got a warranty deed showing that the ownership was transferred. Also, the city did not research the value with Tarrant County before submitting the grant application.
And now Forest Hill faces the possibility of spending $500,000 to clean up an unauthorized municipal solid-waste disposal site in the 21-acre park to comply with a 3-year-old order from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a process complicated by questions of ownership of the land.
City Manager Sheyi Ipaye said he learned of the agency's 2008 violation notice when he got a letter last year telling him about the outstanding violation. Ipaye said he had no idea that the agency had investigated the site before he was hired.
"Nobody did anything about it," Ipaye said.
Recently, the City Council approved spending $30,000 from its public works fund to test the soil for contamination and to consult on methods to clean up the site. Ipaye said the city submitted a compliance plan to the state agency in November and has until December 2012 to "remediate the site."
The city itself helped create the mound of unacceptable material.
Joe Patterson, an engineer with Teague Nall and Perkins, the firm that represents Forest Hill, said construction material from street repairs was dumped at the site for about 20 years. Besides concrete and rebar, the hill became a dumping ground for old appliances, furniture, leaves, doors, tires, plastic bags and windows, even though it was not designated as a municipal dump.
Forest Hill cleaned up the old furniture and other garbage and closed the site to vehicle traffic about three years ago, but officials are concerned about the soil and what it might contain, Patterson said.
Patterson said he recommended that Forest Hill work with Reed Engineering to test the soil through eight wells to be drilled. Groundwater could be tested in the future.
About 90 percent of the debris was broken asphalt, concrete and soil dumped by the city, and 6 percent of the waste was plastic bags and other garbage left by the public.
Patterson said he is recommending "encapsulating" the site, which involves flattening the hill, putting in 2 to 3 feet of ground cover and planting drought-tolerant landscaping to make the area more attractive.
Who owns it?
He said there are no estimates on how much the process would cost, but Forest Hill could pay as much as $500,000 if the soil has to be removed and taken to an approved site.
"We need to back it up [the encapsulation plan] with sampling and make sure there isn't any contamination of the groundwater," Patterson said. "We hope we don't run into any negative test results that would force us to remove those materials completely."
But questions loom about whether Forest Hill owns the land.
Ipaye said that Tarrant County records indicate that the city owns the land but that the county has no documents to support that. The land is divided into five parcels of 1 to 7 acres.
City planner Lisa Cabrera said the land for Griggs Park was donated by Walter Cook and has been in public use more than 20 years. But when she went to the county courthouse for title research, there were no deeds for any of the parcels in the park, she said.
Ipaye said he plans to proceed with the application for the state park improvement grant.
"We can go forward with the grant proposal while the area is cleaned up. That is what I plan to do," Ipaye said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696