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Swiftmud ready to clean up shooting range lead from Sawgrass Lake Park

Lead contamination at Sawgrass Lake Park comes from a shooting range across the lake. Separate from the lead cleanup, Swiftmud will dredge part of the lake to create cleaner water for wildlife.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Lead contamination at Sawgrass Lake Park comes from a shooting range across the lake. Separate from the lead cleanup, Swiftmud will dredge part of the lake to create cleaner water for wildlife.

PINELLAS PARK — Work is expected to begin next month on a multimillion-dollar project to clean lead pollutants out of Sawgrass Lake Park.

The project, which is expected to take almost three years, will begin almost six years after the state settled lawsuits with a nearby shooting range to determine who was responsible for cleaning up the pollution.

The construction will not interfere with visitors to the park, and they will be able to watch progress from an observation tower on the lake.

Sawgrass Lake Park is a 330-acre natural oasis just west of Interstate 275 and south of Gandy Boulevard off 62nd Avenue N. It is owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud, and managed by Pinellas County. A lake and wetland system on the property provides natural water treatment to enhance the quality of water draining into Tampa Bay.

The contaminated area consists of about 9 acres in the western portion of the park, which is not open to visitors.

The cleanup will begin with some minor work to level some land and stabilize an access road into the area, said Swiftmud engineer Matt Preston, the project's director.

Bids for the bulk of the work should be awarded no later than mid February, with work to begin in the spring. When the 30-month project is finished, the district will have spent an estimated $23 million to remove spent lead shot and contaminants from park property. Contaminated vegetation will be cleared.

Swiftmud also will dredge a portion of Sawgrass Lake to create cleaner water for the fish and animals, as well as to improve the overall health of Tampa Bay and its sea life. The dredging is not part of the lead cleanup and has long been planned. But it was delayed while Swiftmud and the state Department of Environmental Protection worked out lawsuits against the Skyway Trap & Skeet Club shooting range in Pinellas Park.

The nonprofit Skyway range sits at the end of 74th Avenue N near the Shoppes at Park Place. It has been open since the late 1940s.

When Swiftmud took 14 acres of the range in a 1975 condemnation case, a judge gave Skyway an easement to continue shooting over the property. Then, in 2000, Swiftmud sued when it discovered that large amounts of lead shot from Skyway had been straying into wetlands beyond the easement. After Swiftmud sued, so did the DEP, which enforces pollution laws.

The two lawsuits were settled in 2004. Under terms of the settlement, Swiftmud agreed to clean up the lead pollution on its land and give the gun club 5 acres of that wetlands and prepare the land for range use, even allowing a fence up to 50 feet high to keep pellets out of the remaining wetlands.

In the six years since the settlement, Preston said, Swiftmud has been saving money to pay for the project as well as doing tests and studies to determine the scope of it.

Contact Anne Lindberg at (727) 893-8450 or alindberg@tampabay.com.

Swiftmud ready to clean up shooting range lead from Sawgrass Lake Park 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 4:14pm]

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