Artifacts may be at lake site, state says
By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- A state agency has recommended that an archaeologist oversee the Lake Maggiore dredging project to make sure no damage is done to artifacts that might be buried in the muck.
It's the latest wrinkle to emerge in a long-planned, $11-million restoration job encompassing nearly 400 acres and aimed at improving the lake's water and habitat.
Other concerns have included identifying ways to dispose of the muck, figuring out how to turn it into dirt, designating a road to truck out the dirt and taking into account damage that might be done to plants and animals during the project.
In a letter to City Council member Virginia Littrell, Historical Resources Division director Janet Snyder Matthews said the city government should retain an archaeologist for several reasons:
-- Develop a safe muck-removal plan;
-- Identify archaeologically sensitive areas that should be avoided in the lake;
-- Monitor dredging activities;
-- Teach the project manager and heavy equipment operators how to deal with artifacts they may encounter.
Littrell had requested a state re-evaluation of the project in light of recent archaeological finds elsewhere in Florida, and her own curiosity about what Lake Maggiore might contain.
"It dawned on me that there are such significant archaeological finds all around southern Pinellas. The fact we've never dredged this lake, it's so huge in acreage, it's logical that Spanish explorers could have been around there, and certainly native Americans," said Littrell, who is a member of the Florida Historical Commission.
It's not yet clear whether the city will bring an archaeologist on board. The state's communication is a recommendation, not an imperative.
City engineer Mike Connors said he is looking into the recommendation.
"Before I embark on spending any more taxpayer money . . . it's my intention to make sure it's necessary and/or beneficial to the project and historical and cultural resources," Connors said.
If an archaeologist does come, it shouldn't delay the project, Littrell said.
"I think they can start doing the set-up and they can get the archaeologist out there pretty quickly," she said. "I don't know what the expense would be. That might be the only sticking point."
The project is expected to begin in earnest this winter, Connors said.
The Historical Resources Division several years ago reviewed city permit applications, but has since revised its policy on lake restoration projects.
Discovery of several prehistoric canoes in Alachua County's Newnan's Lake generated the revision.
Wrote Matthews: "It is our revised conclusion that the proposed restoration/muck removal project (at Lake Maggiore) may adversely affect archaeological resources potentially eligible for listing in the National Register, or otherwise of historical or archaeological significance."
Copies of the letter also went to the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which are project permitting agencies.
Littrell cited archaeological resources at Pinellas Point, Maximo, Clam Bayou and Jungle Prada as evidence of south Pinellas's rich heritage. She also noted that a Native American canoe, found in a city lake and now on display at the Museum of History, has been dated at 1500 A.D.
The Lake Maggiore restoration project has been talked about at least since the 1980s, and serious planning has been under way for several years.
The lake's problem is years of stormwater runoff, which has produced several feet of muck on the bottom. It spawns algae and other plant growth considered undesirable. The plants suck up oxygen, which reduces the fish population.
In Seminole, county officials also are wrangling over how to remove nearly 1-million cubic yards of muck coating the bottom of Lake Seminole. The 684-acre body of water north of Park Boulevard thrived for decades as a great place to ski and fish, but after 60 years of collecting polluted storm runoff, it's filled with sediment that's clogging the bottom with silt and damaging its ecosystem.
County engineers and environmental consultants are working to reverse that trend and make the lake a viable fishery once again. Officials have been trying to figure how to remove the sediment from the lake. Without a large area of land to dry the sludge, options are limited.
Part of the $15-million cleanup plan includes a free demonstration project by a Lakeland engineering company that plans to remove 1,000 cubic yards of sediment over a one-month period. The company will set up 30 tons of equipment in the north section of Lake Seminole Park that is closed to the public. The project hasn't been scheduled yet but should start early next year.
Like other lakes, Lake Seminole could be subject to scrutiny from the historical resources division.
-- Staff writer Maureen Byrne Ahern contributed to this report.
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