Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fort De Soto to be swept for World War II-era ordnance

Fort De Soto Park, known for its white beaches and tourist appeal, is about to become the subject of yearlong study that could unearth pieces of its past.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will search the park for buried World War II-era ordnance that could include bullets, bombs and rockets.

Anything recovered will likely be inert. Mullet Key Bombing and Gunnery Range was a test bombing site, meaning live rounds were used sparingly. In 1948, the U.S. Army sold the land to Pinellas County and, after it was deemed safe for visitors, became the county's largest park. But there's a chance that remnants of its military days are buried in Fort De Soto's beaches, forests or keys.

"There's always the possibility we could find something live, something still functional, so that's kind of why we're out here," project manager Frank Araico said.

The study is funded by the Department of Defense's Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites. About 700 of these sites exist in Florida, Araico said.

Surveyors began near Arrowhead Picnic Area on Tuesday, cutting through dense brush with machetes as they established lines the corps will later sweep with high-powered metal detectors. Searches will extend into the water around the keys, and later this fall, specially trained dogs will search other designated areas. The corps will develop a plan for cleanup or removal this year based on what is found during the sweeps.

But as they search, they'll keep Fort De Soto's unique ecosystem in mind.

"Something that we worked really hard to incorporate with the project was a concern for the environmental resources," Susan Burtnett, a contractor with the corps, said. Biologists will work to identify the best way to sweep without harming native species like the gopher tortoise.

During World War II, the park's north beach and Arrowhead Picnic Area were practice bombing grounds where sand-filled duds were dropped onto targets. The east beach and the water beyond it were used similarly. A beach near Mullet Key was a target for aerial machine gunners.

Live explosives were only dropped on Bonne Fortuna Key, an area that's closed to the public. That's the spot where in 1988 a maintenance worker using a backhoe discovered a 250-pound live bomb buried under mud and water. The site was evacuated, the bomb was detonated and little was left but a 15-foot-deep crater.

Later that year, a 500-pound bomb and several other fragments were found near Arrowhead Picnic Area. The rounds weren't live, and the beaches were evacuated and cleared.

Araico acknowledged there has been some history of discoveries in the area, but he emphasized that many reports of findings turn out to be just rumors. Visiting the park is safe, he said.

"People have been out here for 50 years, and nobody's blown up, so I wouldn't worry about that," Araico said.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Claire Wiseman can be reached at cwiseman@tampabay.com. On Twitter: @clairelwiseman

Fort De Soto to be swept for World War II-era ordnance 09/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 10:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.