- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2005

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — Nearly two centuries as a military outpost for Hampton Roads has left thousands of unexploded bombs and ordnance that could add up to a $30 million cleanup if Fort Monroe is closed.

The Defense Department last month recommended closing Fort Monroe and moving its core responsibilities, including the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, to Fort Eustis.

The proposal, part of a national base realignment, must pass scrutiny by a federal panel and win approval from President Bush to become final.

The fort would then return to state ownership and serve new purposes.

Hampton city officials estimate that a full cleanup of ordnance and hazardous waste would cost about $30 million. The Defense Department would be responsible for cleaning up after a closing.

Generations of soldiers learned how to protect Virginia shores from enemy ships and aircraft from the casemates to the firing ranges, which sent shells into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads. Regular artillery practice ended after World War II.

An environmental study before the last base-closure effort found more than 150,000 pieces of scrap metal and other objects buried on 285 acres of the fort’s property and in the moat.

Engineers estimated that at least 1,300 pieces of unexploded ordnance remain buried in the fort’s grounds.

Robert Menke, an environmental engineer who led the study in 1994 and 1995, said the risk of finding and accidentally setting off an unexploded bomb is “very low.”

Researchers excavated seven pieces of unexploded ordnance. Compared with other bases, Fort Monroe was relatively clean, Mr. Menke said.

The Army, however, has documented discoveries of unexploded ordnance since the late 1950s and has found it everywhere on the base, Fort Monroe’s environmental officials said in an e-mail response to questions from the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.

The highest concentrations were in the moat below the casemates, former arsenal yard and in the seacoast batteries and ranges.

Most unexploded ordnance has been found during construction and excavation projects, officials said.

The 1995 study estimated there were more buried metal objects in the moat than on the rest of the base.

In 1978, naval ordnance specialists removed the top 2 feet of sediment in the moat and discovered 182 cannonballs, 25,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition and more than 2,000 fuses, according to base officials.

A few years ago at nearby Buckroe Beach, a beachcomber with a metal detector found a spent artillery shell. That find and others prompted an emergency review by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Project workers found about 20 rounds of 45 mm, 75 mm and 76 mm anti-aircraft ammunition. They may have come from a beach-replenishment project in which sand was dredged from former artillery ranges near the Chesapeake Bay.

That project was completed in 2003, but beachgoers are still forbidden from digging in the sand and using metal detectors.

Hampton city leaders say developers already have approached them about projects for the site, but they have disclosed no further information. They hope the base will remain on active duty.

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