TIERRA VERDE — A project to improve water quality at Fort De Soto Park has run into a unusual roadblock: shell fragments from World War II.
The county is planning to spend $1.2 million to replace a maintenance road at the park with a bridge to improve water flow around Mullet Key.
But the project has been delayed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which wants to make certain there weren’t any unexploded munitions or shell fragments lurking beneath the surface.
During World War II, the picturesque 1,100-acre park made up of five connected keys was used by the Army Air Forces for an aerial gunnery and bombing range. It is one of hundreds across the nation that was cleaned up by the Army after the war but are being revisited by the Corps by order of the Defense Department.
“When World War II was over, they cleaned them up according to the practice of the day and turned them back to original property owner,” said Nancy Sticht, a Corps spokeswoman. “Now the Department of Defense is going back to all of these sites and ensuring they are still safe and cleaning them up to a higher standard.”
Contractors working for the Corps have completed an intensive site survey at Mullet Key using high-powered metal detectors. For the first time, the Corps also brought in dogs trained to detect explosives, part of a pilot program that may be extended if the dogs prove adept at finding munitions. The dogs, typically born and raised in Europe as sports dogs, were trained for four months once they reach the age of two.
Old military inventory reports also were used to try to figure out the exact locations of bombing ranges. The search also included a survey of the sea bed close to the proposed construction site.
No unexploded munitions were found by the survey, but it did unearth shell fragments that were removed to be recycled, Sticht said.
A final report on the survey is being produced and is expected to be released in May.
“It is a very long methodical process,” Sticht said.
The ordnance survey likely will mean a year-long delay for the county project, said Ivan Fernandez, a project manager with Pinellas County. The project is intended to reduce the level of stagnant water around Mullet Key.
“It appears that everything is OK,” he said. “We’re waiting for a letter from them confirming that before we proceed with the project.”