Sarasota County will spend an additional $1 million as part of a renourishment project on Siesta Beach. The project was poised to finish under budget until ammunition was discovered in the filters designed to keep large rocks off of the beach.
The $21.5 million project was on track to complete on time and under budget before the discovery. 713,000 cubic yards of sand were to be dredged and deposited on the beach over the course of two months.
The pipes used to pump the sand onto the beach have a screen box on the end to capture large rocks. “We started Wednesday, March the 9th, and then by the 12th I started getting emails and phone calls from the contractor and their engineer because they had found some shell (casings) and bullets in the screen box they were using on the beach,” project manager Paul Semenc said this week.
Found in the screen box were .50-caliber shell casings and bullets that were approximately 3 inches long. The most likely explanation for the ammunition being offshore traces back to Sarasota County’s past. During WWII, the area was sparsely populated, so the Army set up two air bases near the present-day Sarasota and Venice airports. Pilots were trained on gunnery, firing, and bombing ranges.
Pilots in P-40 Kittyhawks and P-51 Mustangs practiced dive bombing and shooting with their 50-caliber guns. The bullets and casing found are likely left over from those training sessions in the 1940s.
The US Army Corps of Engineers considers the shells and bullets to be munitions of explosive concern. If ammunition meeting those requirements are found, there are federal guidelines that must be followed in regards to handling the ammunition.
An expert in munitions of explosive concern was hired to make regular visits to the site to look for munitions. “It was done primarily for safety because we didn’t know what we were going to be pulling up,” said Semenec.
A second set of screens was added to the arms that are lowered into the sea for dredging. Adding the additional screens has slowed production considerably.
According to Semenec, about 150 shells and casings have been removed from the dredge screens.
At the halfway point, Weeks Marine claimed that the second set of screens slowed work down 19.1% and cost the company an additional $1.9 million. The company eventually lowered their claim to $1.6 million. They then negotiated a $1 million settlement for the loss of productivity.
Paying that claim used up the final $332,000 left in the budget and pushed the project to $668,000 over budget. The Sarasota County Commission approved paying that expense from the county’s tourist development tax fund – by unanimous vote.