Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Group: Surf City alerted to ordnance

Surfriders say they warned of danger in beach project

By DONNA WEAVER Staff Writer, (609) 978-2015
(Published: March 27, 2007)

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SURF CITY — A spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation said he warned officials of ordnance being pumped onto the beach at the conception of the island beach-replenishment project.

“We've experienced dozens of these projects,” said John Weber. “This kind of thing has happened elsewhere. I'm surprised that more precautions were not taken.”

Five fuses for explosive projectiles, each more than 50 years old, were found earlier this month in newly placed beach sand between 17th and 24th streets. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is handling the beach-replenishment project, closed down that portion of the beach while it surveys the area looking for more explosives. The corps said last week that work may keep the beach closed past Memorial Day.

Weber said the Surfrider Foundation has seen the effects of dredging and beach-replenishment projects in Monmouth County.

Weber lives in Monmouth County but learned to surf on Long Beach Island, he said. Weber's family has owned its oceanfront home on the island for 34 years. He said he is glad that no one was hurt by the recently found ordnance.

“If I were a local or anybody who uses the beaches I'd be really mad and insulted this big beach was built and I couldn't use it. I think this was avoidable,” Weber said. “They say they used this magnetometer thing and it didn't show anything like this was going to happen.”

Weber said that leads him to two possible conclusions — that the Army Corps of Engineers used the magnetometer, an instrument used to detect the presence of magnetic material, and saw there were big chunks of metal in the sand and dredged it up anyway, or the device isn't accurate enough to give the necessary information.

“Why aren't these questions being asked of the Army Corps? They know this has happened before,” Weber said.

Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said a magnetometer was used at the start of the beach replenishment project.

“It's a highly technical metal detector used to scan the area before the dredging began and nothing was found,” Walls said.

Walls said the corps is still conducting an investigation into whether the ordnance could have been missed. He said it could potentially be that the ordnance was buried too deep.

This is the first time the Philadelphia District Corps has discovered ordnance, according to Walls. But this is not the first time a discovery like the one in Surf City has been made on the East Coast, he said.

“In the late '90s there were ordnance found on Bethany Beach in Delaware. We wrapped that scan up of the area pretty quickly,” Walls said.

Bethany Beach's offshore waters had been used for target practice by the U.S. Navy in World War II. A beach replenishment project, like the one in Surf City, dredged offshore sand and accidentally brought small ordnance items onto the beach, according to Geo-Centers, which is now part of Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, in San Diego, Calif.

Robert Siegel worked for Geo-Centers in the late 1990s when the ordnance was discovered on Bethany Beach. Siegel processed and analyzed the data collected in the survey of Bethany Beach.

“We see this a lot, ordnance washing up. It's fairly common, especially now with the development in shore communities and sand replenishment projects,” Siegel said in a phone interview Monday.

Siegel is currently doing survey work with the corps in Huntsville, Ala.

Bethany Beach was slated to open for the season two weeks from the date ordnance was discovered. Siegel said a rapid survey of the beach was conducted. Siegel said his memory was hazy because the survey was conducted almost 10 years ago, but he guessed the survey took a week to three weeks.

“But the time needed to collect the data is only part of the project,” Siegel said. “Data needs to be acquired, analyzed and once the data is analyzed, we come up with locations to dig. Digging can be time consuming, as well, depending on the number of digs.”

Siegel said that using a vehicle to survey the area contributed to it being completed quickly.

“Geo-Centers had a system that was called Stohls, (essentially) a dunebuggy ... with a bunch of metal detectors attached to it,” Siegel said. “Surveying with a vehicle, we surveyed closer to 10 to 20 acres a day. It certainly increases efficiency of the project.”

Walls said the corps is using a similar procedure in Surf City. The vehicle will be hooked up to a towed array of magnetometers, about three or four devices. Walls said the devices will be able to cover 15 to 20 feet of land.

“Our goal is to get the beaches up and running before Memorial Day. Safety is our priority. With the businesses and locals on our side, we'll get this done quickly,” Walls said.

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