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Former site of sludge pit looking rosy

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The former site of the Rose Park sludge pit is now part of Rosewood Park.

The former site of the Rose Park sludge pit is now part of Rosewood Park.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The signs are weathered and rusting, and their warning is outdated.

"Caution," they read. "Waste containment site."

Yet no danger lurks beyond the signs and the forbidding barbed wire-topped, chain-link fence to which they're affixed — aside from the occasional skinned knee or elbow of a skateboarder.

Today, the handful of signs on the northern border of Rosewood Park is the only visual evidence of the unlined sludge pit where oil companies disposed of acidic waste for about 25 years.

Now, after 20 years of environmental cleanup, Salt Lake City government officials are transforming the formerly off-limits land into a place where Rose Park residents are encouraged to gather.

The Salt Lake City Council committed to more than $1 million in improvements to the park over the past year, including the construction of a skate park last summer.

New playground and exercise equipment has been installed, along with sidewalks and landscaping. A gravel driveway and parking lot now penetrate the park, providing easier access to baseball and soccer fields.

In the coming weeks, an off-leash dog area will open on nearly one acre of formerly contaminated land.

"It's a great example of reuse," said Carlton Christensen, the Salt Lake City councilman who represents Rose Park.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees. A recent report of its Superfund Redevelopment Initiative highlights the former sludge pit site as a reuse success, calling the expansion of Rosewood Park "a beautiful addition to the Rose Park neighborhood for recreational use."

"It's a functioning part of the park now," said Dell Cook, Salt Lake City's landscape architect project manager. "Before, it was a no man's land."

The contaminated land covers five acres on the north side of Rosewood Park, 1200 W. 1300 North. Utah Oil and Refining Co. used it as a dumping area for acidic waste sludge from the 1930s until 1957, when Salt Lake City purchased the land, according to the EPA report.

In September 1983, the site was placed on the EPA's National Priorities List of environmentally contaminated areas, also called Superfund sites.

The Army Corps of Engineers began cleaning up the site in 1982. A slurry wall was built around the perimeter of the site, and the waste material was capped.

The work was designed to prevent exposure to the acid-waste sludge, eliminate potentially unhealthy odors and vapors and prevent the sludge from spreading off-site through surface water or groundwater.

The EPA and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality determined in 2003 that the cleanup was complete, and the site was taken off the Superfund list.

Multinational oil company BP has been responsible for the cleanup, which Christensen said has cost "tens of millions of dollars."

"The oil companies have been very responsive and have taken ownership of the initiative," he said. "They've wanted to be a partner in this issue. I give them credit for working with us to try to resolve some of these issues."

EPA restrictions on the capped site limited Salt Lake City's options for reuse. City officials really wanted to build a new parking lot for the park to better accommodate people who play in adult soccer leagues there. The soccer fields are on the east side of the park, and its lone, undersized parking area was on the west.

Because no heavy equipment or digging is allowed in the capped area, city officials came up with a plan to create a lightweight parking area using gravel instead of asphalt. A control gate was built at the entrance to the new parking area to keep large vehicles — anything more than 8,000 pounds — from driving on the cap.

"It's kind of like a bank drive-through, but big vehicles can't get in there," Cook said.

The gravel access road also makes it easier for police to patrol the park, Christensen said.

"Having more sets of eyes in the park improves safety," he said.

The park is heavily used on weekends when adult soccer leagues use the fields. Christensen said he expects the addition of an off-leash dog area to attract more people to the park on weekdays as well.

No irrigation is allowed on the capped portion of the park, so the off-leash dog area will not be landscaped. Cook said the off-leash area will feature natural vegetation and be used much like Parley's Historic Nature Park.

More work is planned for Rosewood Park. The four tennis courts on the northwest corner of the park are scheduled to be resurfaced this month. Planned but not yet funded upgrades include renovation of the bathrooms and resurfacing of the asphalt parking lot.

"The park has had a lot of money invested in it, and it's really coming together," Cook said.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com