Investigations have begun on the Mullet Key Bombing and Gunnery Range Formerly Used Defense Site, now known as Fort DeSoto County Park on Tampa Bay. Soon after the Labor Day holiday, contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began surveying the site to mark the areas for investigation, which will then be cleared of brush and swept with digital metal detectors to identify buried metallic objects that may potentially be munitions remaining from past military activities.
Because of its strategic location, the site was originally reserved for military use in 1849, to ensure its availability for coastal defense. Although fortifications were constructed during the Spanish-American War, the site never saw combat. Mullet Key became a bombing and gunnery training range during World War II, where pilots and air crews practiced aerial attacks using machine guns, practice bombs and live bombs. Following the war, the military no longer needed the land and after it was cleaned up to then-applicable standards, it was sold to Pinellas County in 1948. Fort DeSoto County Park was dedicated in 1963.
The nearly 1,000-acre park includes five interconnected islands, or keys that are home to mangroves, wetlands, hardwoods and many native plants as well as endangered loggerhead sea turtles and more than 300 species of birds. The beach has appeared on several lists of top beaches in the country. The 12-inch mortar battery, the only such battery remaining in the western hemisphere, located at the historic fort for which the park was named, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Visitors also enjoy the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum, which houses artifacts from the site’s military history.
Corps and contractor representatives were available on site all day Tuesday, Sept. 10, to provide information and respond to questions about the current Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of the former Mullet Key Bombing and Gunnery Range.
“We are working in conjunction with the park staff and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to ensure our work has as little impact on the community, visitors and the environment as possible,” said Frank Araico, project manager. “Fieldwork is being conducted during the off-peak tourist season and has been planned to avoid turtle nesting areas.”
Once the investigation results are analyzed, a Proposed Plan with recommendations for addressing potential munitions, if any, will be developed and shared with stakeholders and the public next year.