April 19, 2008 Scores of homes, businesses occupy the 2,100-acre site in the Azalea Park area
By Susan Jacobson, Sentinel Staff Writer
The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday said it would check a second east Orange County site for possible World War II bombs.
Scores of homes and businesses occupy the 2,100-acre site, in the Azalea Park area, which was used for military training during the war and could be contaminated with chemicals or munitions, the government said.
While looking into documents for bombs already found at the former Pinecastle Jeep Range in southeast Orlando, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered photos of planes dropping bombs on a site identified as northwest of Curry Ford Road and Goldenrod Road. The corps plans to ask the Army for $1.2 million to inspect the site. It expects to receive the money by June, and officials then will meet with residents to keep them informed, officials said.
The corps inspected the site in 2005 but didn't find evidence of dangerous chemicals or other risks, spokeswoman Nancy Sticht said late Friday. At the time, officials didn't know about the possible bombing range and thought the area was used as a small-arms range. "I don't think there's any reason for alarm," Sticht said. "In most cases when we find munitions that have explosives in them, we do detonate them on site. But I want to emphasize that we don't think that's going to be an issue here because it's fully developed and nothing was ever reported when it was developed."
Friday's revelation follows nearly a year of controversy over unexploded World War II-era munitions found on ranch property near Odyssey Middle School. Since July, the Army Corps has recovered more than 200 live bombs and rockets and 14 tons of bomb debris. It also found mercury, nitroglycerin and other harmful chemicals on soil samples taken at the former range.
Meanwhile, homeowners in surrounding communities have filed lawsuits because they say their property values have plummeted because of the revelations. A third class-action suit was filed this month.
Angela Pritchett, a mother of two who lives in the 2,100-acre site now under scrutiny, said she is concerned that she could have the same problems.
"In the future, we probably wouldn't be able to sell our house," said Pritchett, 33, who has lived in the neighborhood for most of her life. "The value probably would go down."
But neighbor Raymond Kominowski, a 77-year-old military veteran, said he's not worried. If any debris is underground, it won't cause harm, he said.
"It's been there 40 or 50 years," Kominowski said.
Local governments are waiting to see what the Army Corps finds, spokesmen for Orange County, Orlando and the Orange school district said.
"We're going to be cautious, but we're going to follow the lead of the corps," said Chris Testerman, director of government relations for Orange County. "We'll base our response on the severity of what they find."
Chickasaw Elementary is the closest school to the site, which officials said has been developed since the 1960s. Engelwood Elementary and Jackson Middle are also in the area.
District spokesman Dylan Thomas said some principals may have notified parents but nothing further is anticipated for now. "As we have not been told of anything to fear, we're not doing anything more drastic till we hear from them [the corps]," Thomas said. Carson Chandler, a spokesman for the city of Orlando, echoed that sentiment.
"Our first concern is life-safety issues," Chandler said. "We just want to do everything we can to make sure our residents are safe and feel safe."
The boundaries of the tract, known as the Orlando Range and Chemical Yard Formerly Used Defense Site, are roughly Semoran Boulevard on the west, Chickasaw Trail on the east, just north of the East-West Expressway on the north and Curry Ford Road on the south.
The government used the site from 1943 to 1946 as part of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics. Training, testing and demonstrations involving munitions and chemical warfare were conducted there. The demonstrations included the "potential use" of bombs, white-phosphorous munitions and smoke pots and grenades, the corps said.