The Tallevast Community located between US 301 and 15th Street, near the Sarasota-Bradenton airport, was founded in the late 1800’s by former migrant workers and freed slaves. Its original founders came primarily from five families which are still represented in the community today. The community functioned as a tight-knit community with two community churches for years.
In 1961, the Loral Corporation’s American Beryllium Company (“ABC”) opened a facility at 1600 Tallevast Road, and many members of the community went to work at the facility. The ABC facility manufactured parts for weapons, including nuclear weapons. The facility continued to actively operate until 1996 when it was acquired by Lockheed Martin Corporation.
In May 2003, community leaders decided to form an organization to focus on revitalization and redevelopment in the community. This decision was spurred on by such activities in other neighboring communities, the work of the NAACP, and the Rainbow Push Coalition, after several land use and zoning decisions were passed or proposed for the area but not supported by the community. The organization was incorporated with the State of Florida as a nonprofit organization with the name, FOCUS Family Oriented Community United, Strong Faith-Based Community Development, Incorporated, but later shortened to just Family Oriented Community United Strong, Inc. (FOCUS). In the beginning FOCUS’s primary efforts were aimed at housing, employment, community services, and redevelopment.
Then in September 2003, FOCUS leader Laura Ward saw unidentified men on her property installing a well. When she inquired what they were doing, they told her they were installing a well, but she told them she was the property owner, already had a well, and had not requested another. One of the men indicated that it was not a well for water use, but a monitoring well due to the contamination at the former Loral site. This was the first that FOCUS or the community had heard about the contamination. After noticing more odd activity in the community, FOCUS began investigating with county and state officials and records, which led to the discovery that Lockheed Martin, who had acquired the facility from Loral, was working with the state to define and clean up contamination at the site and in the surrounding community.
At this point, the state had approved a cleanup plan for what had been determined to be a roughly 5-acre area of contamination. Officials also informed the community that there were no risks in the community due to the contamination being largely contained on site and the fact that no one in the community was using private wells for water use. Both issues were immediately contested by FOCUS and proven to be inaccurate.
The discovery of the contamination at the site and further into the community shifted FOCUS’s efforts. While revitalization and redevelopment remain core goals, these efforts have been heavily thwarted by the contamination. For eight years, FOCUS actively engaged with local, state, and federal officials and Lockheed Martin to assure that the contamination was further investigated, and the cleanup efforts considered the actual risks and impacts on those living in Tallevast. Because of FOCUS’s efforts, the contamination was ultimately determined to affect more than 200 acres and additional cleanup requirements were required of Lockheed Martin.
To get to this point, FOCUS worked tirelessly showing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) the inadequacy of more than three of Lockheed Martin’s Site Assessment Reports and more than four of their cleanup plans. Ultimately, in 2011 despite objections by FOCUS and its technical experts, the FDEP approved a cleanup plan for soil and groundwater contamination covering more than 200 acres of the community and three distinct aquifer systems and seven separate layers of aquifers, that is projected to take 50 – 100 years to complete. Such cleanup activities are being performed throughout the community, including on many residents’ private property. For these reasons, FOCUS has remained involved in tracking the cleanup and assisting the community in dealing with the disruptions and challenges associated with the cleanup.
Once it was clear that FDEP was going to approve a cleanup plan for the community that FOCUS and its experts believed was inadequate and which was going to impact the community for decades, FOCUS began to evaluate relocation as an option. Unable to convince Lockheed or government officials to assist with such relocation, FOCUS has been left to try to determine how to help those who want to live their lives without further impacts from the site while also trying to help those who remain with minimizing the impacts from living in this contaminated community.
FOCUS’s current, primary activities include continuing to liaison with government officials and Lockheed to understand what is taking place at the ABC site and as relevant other properties, acting as a repository for government reports regarding the site, holding community meetings on these and other issues that impact the quality of life in Tallevast, building relationships with others who can bring services to the community, and assisting residents with various quality of life issues when requested.
Now more than five years into the cleanup, FOCUS and the community are growing weary of a future which means for most of them spending their lifetime surrounded by contamination, and so, FOCUS is seeking longer term solutions to address these issues.