After years of delay, Broward officials are finally poised to tackle the hazard posed by hundreds of tons of lead that’s been accumulating at the Markham Park Target Range since it opened in the 1980s.
The gunfire has continued there at a fast and furious pace as the county dithered about what to do. But on May 22, the County Commission will consider proposals from five companies for cleaning up what county officials long have known was a festering, environmental mess posed by lead shot and clay targets in a small lake and an adjacent wooded area.
County staff reviewed and ranked the proposals in February. If the commission approves, county staff will begin negotiations with the top ranked firm, MT2 of Arvada, CO.
Clean-up work at the target range, on the edge of the Everglades off State Road 84 in Sunrise, could begin sometime this fall and take several months to complete.
“We think by doing this project, we will eliminate any (environmental) concerns,” said Dan West, director of Broward County Parks and Recreation since January 2010.
West said the county has found no evidence lead has moved into the underground water supply or adjacent wetlands, the primary environmental concern.
“We are routinely conducting tests on the surface water and the adjacent canals and there has been no evidence that the lead is migrating off site,” he said.
TOXIC LEAD IN GROUNDWATER?
In 2009, however, two independent experts told The Miami Herald that monitoring at the site was inadequate to accurately assess whether lead was leaching into groundwater.
Dr. Christopher Teaf, project director for the Center for Biomedical and Toxicological Research at Florida State University, said then that there was “plenty of evidence” that lead had migrated off-site at Markham Park. On Wednesday, he said he’s seen nothing since to change his opinion.
High concentrations of lead can cause brain and nerve damage in humans. Fish and birds can be similarly poisoned. At least two former workers at the target range have blamed health problems on years of lead exposure.
Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, whose district includes the park, said the clean up is now high priority. “It’s been a long time in the process,” she said.
County officials have been talking about a clean up for more than two decades. In 1991, the Sun-Sentinelreported that a county study had found lead contamination at the range, which was then attracting 60,000 target shooters a year.
In 1998, another county study found that the bottom of six-acre Shotgun Lake had a 350-ton layer of splintered clay targets five feet thick.
Limited clean up has been done at the rifle range, where spent slugs are removed and recycled from an earthen backstop every five to eight years. The county also installed a liner to prevent lead from polluting storm runoff.
In 2004, Florida lawmakers exempted gun range operators from local oversight. In response to concerns that the high cost of clean ups could interfere with gun rights. Instead, ranges were supposed to follow “environmental stewardship guidelines.”
The guidelines, issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection, emphasized, “The one thing you can do immediately is to stop firing over and into surface water or wetlands.”
But that didn’t happen at Markham Park.
In 2009, officials talked about taking action, but the idea died in a severe budget squeeze.
COUNTY FINALLY TAKES ACTION
Last June, with Commissioner Kristin Jacobs absent, the commission voted 8-0 to seek cleanup proposals.
MT2’s plan came in at $2.7 million, West said. But that figure will be reduced by a credit to the county based on how much the company gets recycling and selling the lead. That could amount to $700,000 to $750,000, according to the company’s proposal.
“We got (proposals from) very reputable firms, and the number one ranked firm has done over 600” similar clean ups, West said.
The other four companies didn’t submit specific costs, but did, as required, commit to completing the project within the county’s $2.2 million budget, which includes a later phase involving wetland mitigation.
Much of the upfront cost will be paid with revenue from the $1 lead remediation fee charged each shooter on top of the regular shooting fee. The county has about $865,000 in the lead reclamation reserve fund that will go toward the clean up, West said. The balance will be covered by future fees, he said.
The project calls for the removal of lead and clay target fragments from the Shotgun Lake and from five acres of wooded area directly north of the skeet and trap range. Non-native melaleuca trees in the area also will be removed, county officials have said.
MT2’s proposal disturbingly indicates that it expects to find hazardous levels of “leachable lead” in both lake sediment and “shot fall zone soils” that could impact surface and groundwater.
The work can be scheduled to assure shooters have access to the range at least eight hours a day and on weekends for most of the project, according to the firm’s proposal.
In the first phase, MT2 will remove all the vegetation and excavate and process the surface soil to remove lead from the soil down six inches or a foot depending on conditions.
The firm will then drain and excavate the lake, process sediment to remove lead, and fill the hole with new soil. During that phase, shooting might be restricted to weekends only for a period of one to two weeks, according to the proposed plan.
The entire project area will then be graded and covered with sod.
To entice commissioners to choose them, the firm also offered to assess additional areas impacted by lead shot that are outside of the immediate project area and to help the county develop an Environmental Stewardship Plan for the range.