Feds continue munitions cleanup from N.J. shore

A $17 million project to clean ordnance off two popular New Jersey beaches is in its third and final year.

According to an online Associated Press report, the ammunition and other ordnance had been dumped overboard at the end of WWI by Navy ships patrolling the New Jersey coast. Unwittingly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sucked it from the seabed and pumped it ashore while undertaking a massive beach replenishment project begun in late 2006.

Beachgoers along two of New Jersey’s most popular beaches, Surf City and Ship Bottom, started spotting odd-shaped rusty metal items in the sand in March 2007. Once identified, the discoveries spurred jokes and even created a cottage industry of T-shirts with slogans like, “I Had a Blast on Long Beach Island”.

Keith Watson, project manager for the Army Corps, told AP that the government checked thoroughly before starting the $71 million beach replenishment project and had no reason to believe that any munitions were in the area, which is located along a narrow, 18-mile barrier island about 30 miles north of Atlantic City.

So far, work crews have retrieved 1,213 pieces of munitions, mostly 6 to 8-inch-long fuses filled with gunpowder that could explode if jostled or struck.

Sections of the beaches will remain closed as heavy equipment digs up, scours and sifts the sand in a race against time. Crews hope to finish work by May 22, just days before Memorial Day weekend and the start of the summer beach season.

Work in 2007 and 2008 involved digging down 3 feet deep, which was the limit of how far diagnostic tools could see.

This year, 50 pieces of heavy equipment including backhoes, bulldozers, conveyor belts and dump trucks are on the beach. The process involves scooping large bucket loads of sand into sifting machines that will separate any solid objects from the sand.

Munitions that are found are turned over to military demolition crews, who take them to offsite ranges and detonate them.

Because the Army Corps continues to work on beach replenishment projects, it has changed its procedures to include the use of screens at both ends of the dredging equipment used to suck sand from the ocean floor and shoot it onto the beaches. That should prevent anything but sand and water from being pumped ashore, Watson said.

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