- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2008


HAMPTON, Va. — Buckroe Beach has been off-limits to treasure hunters with metal detectors since 2003 because of concerns they may find an explosive remnant of the two World Wars.

The beach ban ended last week, with a hitch: Hunters are required to view a video explaining what to do if they find an artillery shell.

The detector ban dates to the first half of the 20th century, when the Army and Navy shot anti-aircraft rounds across the Chesapeake Bay during training exercises.

Since then, some of the shells have been churned up during beach-nourishment projects when sand was sucked from the bottom and pumped onto the beach to build it up after erosion caused by big storms. Mixed in with the sand was the ordnance, primarily 76 mm shells that look like hollow, corroded bullets about 1 foot long.

Northeasters and other storms washed away sand and revealed the ordnance.

Nineteen shells were found at Buckroe Beach between the spring of 2003 and the summer of 2004. One was found in waist-deep water by a swimmer who nudged it with his toe.

The 14-acre beach draws an estimated 100,000 visitors a year. On a good day at Buckroe Beach, a prospector might find a diamond ring or an expensive watch.

“But you might be out there for three hours and only find 35 cents in loose change,” said Barry Merrill, president of the Hampton Roads Recovery Society.

Anyone interested in viewing the video can contact a park ranger at the beach. The video tells people about the three R’s of finding ordnance: recognize it, retreat from the area and report it to park officials.

Once the video has been viewed, the city will give the treasure hunter a badge that must be worn while they scan the beach.

A beach-nourishment project in 2004 was conducted with several precautions, said George Follett, an ordnance and explosives safety specialist who was Buckroe Beach project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.

As part of the $3.7 million federal project, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. screened the sand coming into and out of the dredge, according to Mr. Follett and Army documents.

The Corps also surveyed the beach and the sand offshore up to about 3 or 4 feet of water with military-grade detecting equipment, Mr. Follett said. The city also rakes the top 6 to 8 inches of sand on a regular basis.

The Corps spent $1.2 million to remove ordnance from Buckroe, but it can never find it all.

That is why everyone who uses a metal detector at Buckroe must watch the video, Hampton Parks Director Jim Wilson said.

Mr. Wilson said rangers and lifeguards would continue to watch out to see whether anyone is digging too deep into the sand or scanning for metal without a city-issued badge. They’ll also sweep after heavy storms.

“You get a hurricane or a northeaster come through, you never know what you’re going to find,” Mr. Merrill said.

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