published Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Alton Park playground plan raises environmental concerns

IF YOU GO

What: 45th Street Park Community Build Day

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

Where: Corner of 45th Street and Central Avenue

Alton Park residents have been asking for a recreational facility since at least 2002 when their old recreation center closed.

"There's a desert for recreation in our community," said Rosemary Porter, spokeswoman for the South Chattanooga Leadership Advisory Council. "There's not another park in Alton Park. They tore down the Alton Park Recreation Center and they gave us the Southside rec, but that's in St. Elmo."

City and county officials are spending more than $330,000 in grant and local funds this year to create a fenced-in park on the corner of 45th Street and Central Avenue with benches, lights, grills, picnic tables, playground, walking track and softball field.

Alton Park residents will come to the park today at 9 a.m. to finish the walking track. City officials anticipate the last part of the park, the playground, will be complete by mid-October.

"Part of the Chattanooga way is to respond to a community," said Donna Williams, the city's director of economic and community development.

She said the park results from the efforts of a number of organizations that have been working collectively to bring attention to Alton Park. Residents in the community have said that they don't have enough well maintained places for people to gather and be active, she said.

Most of the funding, about $310,000, comes from a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Kids Healthy Communities Initiative through the Hamilton County Health Department's Step One Program. Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey also donated funds and the city gave about $9,000 worth of equipment use and labor.

But not all residents are pleased.

The problem is the pollution and the location, said Milton Jackson, longtime Alton Park resident and former head of Stop Toxic Pollution.

Jackson is concerned that a lot of money is being spent to build a new park surrounded by manufacturing plants that emit chemicals into the air and he's worried that the park is built on top of dirt contaminated with foundry sand that could cause sickness. He is concerned that odors in the air could cause breathing problems.

"We smell it in Alton Park," said Jackson. "That old wet rag sickening smell and it gets lose in the air."

Jackson suggests that the park be built at the old Charles A. Bell School site in the 3500 block of Central Avenue. He plans to start a petition asking that the park be relocated and he plans to present his petition to the City Council later this month.

Troy Keith, environmental field office manager for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said there was some foundry sand found on the land. But the amount found was minimal and it has been cleaned.

"At the end of the day there will be no contaminated foundry sand," said Keith. "And it's only marginally contaminated to begin with, but there will be nothing left exposed at ground surface where someone could come in contact with it."

City officials said they completed cleanup of the site last summer.

Some material was disposed of at a permitted landfill and the city brought in clean soil and surfacing materials to make the park safe, said Keith.

Amber Boles, public relations coordinator for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, assures Alton Park residents that nothing is in the air that will make them sick. She said her agency is monitoring all factories to make sure they are in compliance.

John Bilderback, Step One program manager at Chattanooga Hamilton County Health Department, said he understands Jackson's concern about the park being in an industrial area, but more than half the land in Alton Park is near or on an industrial site. He said he also believes the community is large enough to support two parks, one at 45th Street and Central and another at the old Charles A Bell site where Jackson suggests.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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