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New sediment samples to be tested for toxicity before lagoon dredging

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of September 22, 2011)
Photo: Retired biology professor Hal Goforth

In the face of mounting pressure, Florida Inland Navigation District Executive Director David Roach last week agreed to have new sediment samples taken from the Indian River Lagoon to be tested for toxins before the start of a controversial dredging project next year.

The district has not tested muck in the lagoon for toxins since 1997, and was preparing to go ahead with dredging based on those 15-year-old results until a public demonstration at a June Indian River County Commission meeting called attention to the lack of current data.

After the meeting, attended by 100 or so red-shirted residents from the area where the 140,000 cubic yards of dredged muck will be stored, State Rep. Debbie Mayfield wrote Roach requesting that the district collect new data and conduct new public hearings because the original testing occurred in the mid-’90s. 

County commissioners passed a resolution making a similar request, and the district’s board instructed its staff last week to “accomplish the county’s request.”

Those pushing for new tests fear toxins could be stirred up and pollute the lagoon when it is dredged, and that toxic muck could contaminate ground water and cause other problems at Duck Point where the muck will be stored in a large pit under construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The muck in the lagoon is four feet deep in places and contains contaminants that come from a time when leaded gasoline was the dominant fuel for cars and boats and environmental restrictions on many discharge sites such as battery shops, auto paint shops and gasoline stations were totally unregulated and unmonitored,” says Hal Goforth, a retired biology professor and navy diver who opposes dredging without adequate tests.

“If you take three feet of muck off [by dredging] and leave the final most toxic foot, you have just uncapped a layer of potential poison that can get redistributed into the river. You could pollute the whole lagoon.”

“We don’t think the results have changed [since the single 1997 sample],” says Roach. “Intracoastal waterway sediments, especially in the subject area, have always tested as non-contaminated.  There are no contaminate generators in this area of the waterway.” 

Nevertheless, Roach says he understands the residents’ concerns and wants to alleviate them. He says he will present a plan for updated testing to the district’s board by December and that testing will likely start within 30 days if the board approves the plan.

Indian River County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said he’s pleased the district is responding to concerns. “It is a good positive step forward. We didn’t provide any specifics of what they are testing for but I believe they will be looking for heavy metals, pesticides and things like that. If you think about, if that stuff is there, it is probably better to get it out of the river where it can be contained and monitored.”

Roach said testing will be “a five-figure job,” and should get underway within 30 days once district commissioners approve the plan.