By Jay Cook |
Over 300 pieces of military-grade ordnance, each no larger than a pocket-sized ChapStick, were recovered along beaches in three Shore towns, and ultimately disposed of safely.
The beach towns of Loch Arbour, Allenhurst and Deal had been the site of a post-Sandy coastal storm risk management project spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which began in 2015.
Sand pumped onto those beaches for the replenishment was riddled with hundreds of fusing components for World War I-era artillery, unbeknownst to the USACE.
Starting in December of 2016, the Baltimore District – which specializes in munitions and explosives – came to aid in the removal.
“For the past couple months, what we’ve done is sifted through the sand that was placed on the beach, while being pumped in,” said Baltimore District spokesman Chris Gardner. “We modified our processes to prevent any more from being inadvertently pumped onto the beach.”
In total, 362 fusing components, mostly consisting of boosters, were found over a three-month span, which ended in the first week in March.
Boosters are one of four components to a basic artillery round, acting as the explosive agent. Despite their size, Gardner said, the pieces had the potential to still be live and dangerous.
After collection, the rounds were taken to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst for safe detonation, said Staff Sgt. Caitlin Jones.
On March 2, the 87th Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit destroyed 329 boosters on location at the base.
“When those kinds of items are found in the region,” Jones said, “our team is trained to retrieve them in a variety of environments and safely dispose of them on our range.”
Gardner said crews spent the time between December and March sifting and digging through the sand, excavating up to 10 feet in some places. Metal detectors were also used on the beaches, as well as instruments to inspect the surf zone in the ocean as well.
Gardner also added that there is no origin of the boosters, either where they came from or when then were dumped into the ocean. Though only speculating, he said they were most likely tossed overboard when considered as excess after WWI.
The ordnance found along these beaches has no correlation to the mortar round found by a beachgoer at the F Beach Jan. 5 on Sandy Hook. That ordnance was destroyed by the Naval Weapon Station Earle’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, which closed down the beach two days later.
“Unexploded ordnance are not uncommon at Gateway’s Sandy Hook Unit,” Gateway National Recreation Area’s superintendent Jen Nersesian said in a statement. “Not only was Fort Hancock an active military base until 1974, but this site was also the proving ground of the U.S. Army from 1874 until 1919.”
Gardner said that since the search has ended along the three towns, residents can comfortably go to the beach, yet must always keep an eye out.
“By conducting this thorough screening of the beaches, we do feel we’ve significantly reduced any potential risks to the public related to these items,” he said. “I do want to clarify although that highly unlikely, given the dynamic environment of the ocean and surf zone, the potential could still exist for an individual to discover one of these items.”
In the chance someone encounters a possible unexploded ordnance, the USACE asks residents to follow the Three R’s:
- Recognize: A possible munition item has been encountered.
- Retreat: Mark the area and move away from the item.
- Report: Immediately notify a lifeguard or call 911 to report the discovery.
This article was first published in the March 16-23 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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