- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

POQUOSON, Va. (AP) | For more than 40 years, a 3,276-acre peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay served as a bull’s-eye for U.S. military bombs and rockets.

Now, the Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin work later this month to clear an untold amount of ordnance — some of it unexploded — that litters the marshy landscape of Plum Tree Island.

While signs along the shoreline and at several Poquoson marinas warn of the danger, people continue to ignore the risk and visit, officials said.

In 1958, three teenagers were seriously injured when a bomb half-buried in the sand exploded.

“This work has to be done,” said Joe McCauley, the Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s a public-safety issue.”

The Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District office will oversee the recovery project, which will include demolition of the unexploded munitions. Work is scheduled to begin later this month and continue into April, then resume in 2010.

The island was used by the military from 1917 until 1959.

George Follett, the Corps of Engineers’ program manager for the Plum Tree Island cleanup, said the largest munitions lobbed onto the island were bombs containing about 1,000 pounds of explosives.

Most of the ordnance is expected to be smaller, Mr. Follett said. “Our mission now is to do a survey to find out the nature and extent.

“Between 2 percent and 5 percent of the rockets and bombs on the island probably didn’t explode,” he said.

Shaw Environmental Inc., an Edgewood, Md., firm that has done similar work at other former Department of Defense sites, will sweep for ordnance, then detonate any remnants it finds.

“There will be some loud bangs at some point,” Mr. Follett said, “but nothing to get nervous about.”

The work is being done in stages because of birds that nest on the refuge, which has been managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service since 1972.

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