Special Reports

Developer drops Tallevast lawsuit

TALLEVAST - Lockheed Martin Corp. has three months to design a cleanup plan for the Tallevast toxic-waste plume, now that a legal challenge to its contamination maps has been dropped.

But what remains to be seen is how the defense giant will resolve the damages caused by contamination on property owned by local developer Trey Desenberg, who mounted the challenge of Lockheed's data in October.

And how that resolution will affect other developments planned for the area - and Tallevast residents themselves.

Desenberg has plans to develop the northwest corner of U.S. 301 and Tallevast Road as a retail/office complex called The Forum.

Lockheed's maps originally placed Desenberg's property outside of the 200-acre contamination plume traced back to the former Loral American Beryllium Co. plant Lockheed owned when the plume was discovered.

Desenberg challenged the state's acceptance of Lockheed maps after his own tests revealed the plume had reached his land.

Since then, Lockheed and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have run more tests and now agree Desenberg's property is contaminated, said Ralph DeMeo, Desenberg's attorney, with the Tallahassee firm of Hopping, Green and Sam.

"We are satisfied DEP and Lockheed properly assessed our property to determine the impact from the former beryllium facility," DeMeo said in a phone interview Tuesday.

But the case is not closed, he added.

"There is no question that our property has been impacted, but what we don't know is the extent of the damage," he said.

In January, Lockheed installed two more monitoring wells on Desenberg's property to assess that damage. So far, tests have revealed 1,4 dioxane, a toxic chemical that fingerprints contamination from the beryllium plant, DeMeo said.

Lockheed's attorney, Clifford Zatz, of the Washington firm of Crowell & Moring, confirmed in a Jan. 31 letter to DeMeo that the new monitoring wells will screen for contaminants at 90 to 100 feet below the surface.

Test results will determine the future of The Forum development, DeMeo said.

"We have taken Lockheed at their word to work out the damages," DeMeo said. "We don't know what the remedy is. It might be cleanup or it might be money, but we are confident we can work that out with Lockheed."

Whatever the remedy, it could affect surrounding commercial and industrial developments planned for the Tallevast/airport area, one of the hottest growth markets in the county.

DeMeo lauded DEP and Lockheed's cooperation.

Tallevast residents would like the same consideration, said Laura Ward, president of FOCUS, a Tallevast advocacy group. Ward had expected Desenberg to withdraw his challenge.

"He got Lockheed's attention," Ward said. "The fact that they are drilling more wells close to U.S. 301 proved what Michael Graves, our technical adviser, has said all along - the plume has reached U.S. 301 and Lockheed needs to install more wells in that area."

Ward said Lockheed should be as attentive to residents' demands for more wells between the railroad in Tallevast and 15th Street East, the heart of the historic community where many families relied for years on private wells that were found to be contaminated in 2004.

"Lockheed has just not installed enough wells in the community to know the extent of the contamination," Ward said. "That is what Michael Graves, Dr. Tim Varney and our other technical consultants have told us. But Lockheed does not listen to us."

Lockheed was notified of Desenberg's decision to dismiss his challenge via a letter sent from Bill Kutash, DEP's manager overseeing the Tallevast cleanup.

Kutash put Lockheed on notice that the company must submit a final cleanup plan design by May 4.

Lockheed spokeswoman Gail Rymer said the defense giant has already started the design phase and will deliver on deadline.

Lockheed scientists estimate the cleanup phase could take more than 20 years to complete.

"The time is right," said Pamala Vazquez, DEP spokeswoman. "We are anxious to get the pollutants cleaned up in Tallevast."

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049 or at dwright@Bradenton.com.