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Shipyards' soil contamination may alter development plan

Shad Khan's development company had estimated $35 million for remediation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The multimillion dollar development proposed for the Shipyards property has another hurdle to overcome, although this one was not unexpected.

While Iguana Investments anticipated $35 million in cleanup costs for the property that was a functioning shipbuilding facility for decades, the environmental assessment recommends limitations for how some of the property will be used.

Soil samples taken throughout the 48-acre riverfront property turned up high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins. The assessment also recommends some dredging of the adjacent submerged land leases in the river. 

Earlier this year, Jaguars owner Shad Khan's development company outlined a proposal that would include housing, a hotel, restaurants and bars, multilevel community fields, an amphitheater, naval museum and more.

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Experts who performed the study said the plans may have to be revised to avoid certain uses for some of the most-contaminated parts of the property.

"The contaminants, that's what you'd expect from a large industry such as shipyards or painting boats or building vessels like they do out at Mayport," said Brian Pepitone, who works near the Shipyards.

Pepitone pointed out that planners saw the report coming and should be prepared to deal with the results.

"It's going to be the same plan, and it's going to boost the city economically, and what's the difference?" Pepitone said. "He was asking for the money anyway to clean the property."

City officials said the findings should not prevent development of the site. Planners are considering changing the plans to work around some of the contaminated areas, but officials said they're confident the site will be clean and safe.

"There are various federal and state procedures that have to be followed, of course, but they are in place to deal with sites just like this," said Jim Robinson, director of Jacksonville's Public Works Division. "We have many brownfield sites in the city, some of which have gone through development and dealt with the contaminants, so we're in good shape from that standpoint."

Nearly 30 so-called brownfield sites are in Duval County alone, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Those areas include a section along Philips Highway, where a Walmart now sits, and one in Riverside, which is now home to a family business. The formerly contaminated properties have all been rehabilitated and redeveloped.

"I'm sure there are people who specialize in that field who clean it up properly and they get paid the good money to do that," Pepitone said. "So, I mean, if they cleaned it up, and they paid for it, I'd still feel safe."

Khan asked the city to set aside $35 million for potential issues with the site, but it's unclear if the cleanup will cost more than that.

News4Jax contacted the Downtown Investment Authority and Iguana Investments for comments, but we have not heard back since the report came out.

As proposed by Khan's Iguana Investments, the Shipyards would include multifamily housing, commercial space, a hotel, restaurants and bars, multilevel community fields, an amphitheater and public parks, a boardwalk and docking space for a USS Adams naval museum.

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