Castle Hill demands answers from Parks

When Castle Hill residents found out that the Pugsley Creek Park was contaminated, they were worried. But when crews showed up and started removing soil from the nearby site, possibly sending the hazardous dirt particles into the air, residents were furious.

On Saturday, October 9, hundreds of Castle Hill residents came out to demonstrate and demand that the city Parks Department involve them in the process of cleaning up the park to ensure that the community’s safety is insured.

“How dare they put up a fence and start removal of this dangerous soil without explaining the project to us,” Castle Hill Homeowners Association president Israel Morales said. “We need to have an open discussion on this, so let’s get together.”

About four years ago the city began investigating the site because of a citywide initiative to identify troubled parklands, Morales said. Originally 58 samples were taken and all came back positive for contamination.

Upset by the results, community members called for additional testing and another dozen samples were taken at the park, which sits about 100 feet away from a number of homes.

These tests, too, came back positive for a list of more than 50 hazardous chemicals including cadmium, lead, zinc and mercury.

According to Morales, after finding the contamination the city did not put up signs or fence off the area until very recently.

Then a few weeks ago a contractor showed up, without an inspector on site, and began removing soil.

“If mercury and lead gets into the air it’s going to go into our homes and our property and affect our children and our environment,” Morales said. “If they plan to haul this stuff out, what route are they taking? Are they going by our homes? How can they assure us it will be safe?”

Morales, who represents about 700 homes, said that since holding the rally he has set up meetings with several elected officials, and plans to ask the Parks Department to come to a Castle Hill Homeowners Association meeting and quell fears that have been shaking the neighborhood by giving a presentation about the soil removal project.

“We want to know what they plan on doing, and make sure that they know what we want them to do,” he said. “And we don’t want anybody working in the park until that happens.”

Parks officials did not return phone calls for comment, but according to the department website, a project to restore 2.5-acres of salt marshes along the banks of Pugsley Creek is listed as “pending registration”. For decades the site was a landfill, and Morales said he is not surprised that the city is looking to remove the soil.

“If they are going to beautify our park, that’s great,” he said.

“But we want to make sure it’s done right.”