Former Navy bomb sites eyed for cleanup
The barely recognizable rusting hunks of metal are a reminder of a simpler yet no less dangerous time when there were no so-called "smart bombs," only skilled military pilots in need of training.
More than 60 years ago Navy and Army pilots regularly used Tisbury Great Pond and East Beach and an area known as Little Neck on Chappaquiddick for bombing and strafing practice.
Over the years the remnants of those training missions, rusted practice bombs, have continued to turn up in the marsh and on the beach, objects of curiosity more than concern.
One of the many rusted practice bombs found on Little Neck on Chappaquiddick Island. Photo courtesy TTOR
In terms of the Department of Defense, the former Tisbury Great Pond bombing range may have been out of sight but it was not out of mind, only down on a very long list of formerly leased sites.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, provided authority and funding for certain cleanup activities at areas used by the Department of Defense.
Those laws gave birth to a cleanup under the management of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of what are termed Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS), properties that the Department of Defense once owned or used, but no longer controls.
At some point, Tisbury Great Pond turned up on the list of former ranges, and several years ago a team from the Army Corps of Engineers made a visit to the Vineyard to make an assessment. They decided another look was warranted.
In August representatives of the Army Corp of Engineers held a meeting with state officials and Chris Kennedy, Regional director for The Trustees of Reservation (TTOR), the conservation organization responsible for much of the property where the bombs are found.
The area targeted for an assessment and possible cleanup is only Tisbury Great Pond. But based on comments from Mr. Kennedy, in a letter dated August 30, 2007 to the Army Corps of Engineers, Anne Malewicz, a section chief with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, asked that the East Beach/Little Neck area be added to the FUDS list.
According to a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers, East Beach/Little Neck would need to be identified as a new site through the Congressional approval process.
In a telephone conversation this week Mr. Kennedy said the practice bombs contained flash charges used for marking purposes and are not thought to pose a risk. However, he said that there does appear to be some concern that chemicals used in the munitions could be an environmental concern.
Mr. Kennedy said the areas where the practice bombs are mostly found on Chappaquiddick is a marsh area quite off the beaten path and on the Tisbury Great Pond's Long Point Preserve.
He said the Trustees have been aware of the bombs for some time and on occasion made arrangements with military officials to dispose of found objects. He said that up until the August meeting when he learned of the potential environmental risks it was his understanding that they posed no hazard to the public. He said he is awaiting the next assessment.
MECs and MCs
According to a Corps of Engineers flyer, a site inspection is part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) process. A site inspection "is conducted to determine if there are any environmental hazards present that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. Should hazards be identified during the Site Inspection stage, the property would then continue onto a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study to more fully characterize the hazards present and develop appropriate remedial alternatives for the site."
Alion Science and Technology, a Virginia-based private corporation, is preparing to conduct a site inspection (SI). In defense contractor jargon, Alion will be looking for munitions of explosive concern (MEC) and munitions constituents (MC) over an 18-month period.
According to a general site history provided by the company, Tisbury Great Pond was an active Navy installation from August 1943 to July 1947. "The installation served as a practice bombing site. The Navy also built strafing range and masthead targets on the Tisbury Great Pond property in support for the fighter training program of Quonset Point Naval Air Station.
"By the end of World War II, ordnance activity is documented to have ceased on the Tisbury Target Area. However, on 27 March 1947, the target area was reinstated for practice bombing use by the carrier fleet at Newport, Rhode Island. A masthead target was constructed about midway on the beach between Tisbury Great Pond and the ocean for use by the fleet.
"On 4 April 1947, the Navy suspended the bombing program on Tisbury Pond. On 18 April 1947, the Navy provided final assurance that no more bombing would occur on Tisbury Great Pond."
The list of munitions used at Tisbury Great Pond included 100- and 500-pound practice bombs with spotting charges and .30 and .50 caliber bullets.
According to the Alion report, during operation of the practice range, black powder was the only explosive used. Black powder degrades into non-explosive byproducts over time. At the strafing range, both metals and explosives samples will be collected, based on the munitions used. "Both MC and MEC are contaminants of concern during this SI. The proposed sampling program, therefore, will address both MC and MEC and will be based on, among other considerations, the understanding of the fate and transport of these contaminants in the environment to potential receptors (e.g., humans and biota)."
During the war years, Martha's Vineyard Airport was a Naval Air Station. Flight units including squadrons of Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers took to the Island's skies to train before combat in the Pacific.
Dr. Gilbert Ross first arrived on Cape Poge where his family still has a house in 1946. He said the Navy was still conducting nightly bombing practice over Little Neck.
The planes first dropped flares, he assumes as a target, then bombs. The practice took place almost every night.
Richard Parmenter, a former Naval commander who had served in the South Pacific and who lived at the tip of North Neck that juts into Cape Poge bay was very annoyed at the loss of peace and tranquility, Dr. Ross recalled. He complained and after a visit by three Navy men the bombing runs stopped.