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Swiftmud sues gun club; claims lead contamination

The water agency says lead pellets from a skeet shooting club are tainting soil and water, and it wants the group to cover cleanup costs.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- Swiftmud has sued a local gun club, claiming that shotgun pellets falling on the water agency's property next door are contaminating the water and soil with lead.

A gun club official says the group hasn't caused any pollution but adds the club wants to be a good neighbor.

A state court has issued a temporary injunction that prohibits the Skyway Trap and Skeet Club, 3200 74th Ave. N, from firing ammunition that could hit Southwest Florida Water Management District land.

The club is next to Sawgrass Lake Park.

Club members still are allowed to fire ammunition onto other nearby Swiftmud land, which is covered by easement. But Swiftmud also has asked the Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit for Pinellas-Pasco to rescind that 26-year-old agreement and to force the gun club to pay damages to clean up the lead that has contaminated nearby water and soil.

"We don't put pellets on anybody else's property," said Bob Meyers, who's in charge of publicity for the gun club. "They may have thought that that's what happened. Obviously, we don't agree with anything like that."

Meyers also disputed rumors that the club had closed, even temporarily.

"We are not closed," Meyers said. "Swiftmud did not close us. The courts did not close us. We are open."

But Meyers agreed the club has had some long-standing problems with neighbors that the 400 or so members are working to settle.

"We're always looking for better ways to keep our neighbors happy," Meyers said.

The club's problems with neighbors have continued since people began moving near the grounds. A nearby mobile home park has long complained about noise and ammunition from the club. Similarly, visitors at Sawgrass Lake Park can hear the booming sounds from weapons being fired at clay targets.

But the club's most formidable foe so far has turned out to be Swiftmud. The agency acquired property next to the club in 1976 for flood control, said Michael Molligan, Swiftmud's spokesman.

At that time, the courts granted a perpetual easement on part of that property so the gun club would have a safe place for their pellets to fall. But recently the Department of Environmental Protection study discovered elevated levels of lead, a toxic substance, in the groundwater, soil and a nearby canal.

About the same time, Swiftmud also began monitoring the situation and said it discovered lead pellets falling onto its property.

So Swiftmud sued.

The agency asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting pellets from falling on Swiftmud property. It also asked that the easement on the remaining property be withdrawn because of the toxicity of the lead. And it asked that the gun club pay to clean up the contamination.

If all that is granted, then the club will have to find a way to keep its lead pellets on its own property, Molligan said. If it can't, then it would likely have to close.

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