Contamination from Tallevast Concerns Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Officials

Officials at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport plan to seek legal counsel with an environmental specialist amid concerns that groundwater pollution leaked from the former American Beryllium plant in nearby Tallevast may devalue airport property.

But Lockheed Martin, the aerospace giant that has accepted responsibility for the cleanup, said groundwater contamination typically does not diminish property values.

A Tallevast community leader disagrees and welcomes the airport's involvement.

A new report released last week showed a contamination plume 2½ times larger than originally feared, extending from a former site used to make Beryllium parts in the heart of Tallevast, a residential neighborhood.

Airport property, including an 18-acre driving range at Suncoast Golf Center, falls within the plume.

The northeastern part of the airport runway is now under investigation for groundwater contamination.

Two monitoring wells will be placed near airport runways, said Fred Piccolo, chief executive officer of the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority.

"There's no evidence that the property has been devalued," Piccolo said. "We just have to be ready. We need to protect the airport's interests."

Gail Rymer, director of corporate and community affairs for Lockheed Martin, said she could appreciate the airport's desire to protect its interests.

"But it has been our experience over the years in environmental cleanups that there has not been a diminishment of property values as a result of groundwater contamination," Rymer said. "We don't believe it's something that anyone at the airport or the Tallevast area needs to worry about."

Residents of the Tallevast neighborhood are worrying, said Laura Ward, president of Tallevast's neighborhood community development group, Family Oriented Community United and Strong.

Lending institutions have been reluctant to lend money to Tallevast residents and some have had difficulty refinancing their homes, she said.

"Maybe now that it's gone to the airport, maybe someone will listen," Ward said. "Since we're in it, I'm happy to have someone of the magnitude of the airport in it with me."

With property in Manatee County appreciating at break-neck speed, the golf driving range owned by the airport will soon be more valuable than a driving range can support, said Bill Myers, a recreational pilot and Airport Authority-watcher.

"Lockheed has accepted responsibility, and they should clean up the mess," Myers said.