Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bombs on the beach

Yet another reason why Man sucks...

May 15, 2007
After Ordnance Scare, Beachgoers Told to Dig With Care

SURF CITY, N.J., May 14 — Sun worshipers coming to this Jersey Shore town should be happy that the closed beaches will soon be reopening. But they might want to rethink what they bring.

Pail and small shovel: check. Sand spade and metal detector: skip. Beach umbrella: proceed with caution.

After removing 1,111 pieces of potentially explosive military ordnance from the sand and surf, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is ready to declare the beaches here and in neighboring Ship Bottom safe and recommend that they be reopened in time for Memorial Day.

So, once the State Department of Environmental Protection approves, the “Beach Closed” signs will come down. But in their place will be new signs prohibiting beachgoers from using metal detectors or digging deeper than a foot into the sand. These “land-use controls” will be posted at every entrance and on every lifeguard stand along the 1.4 miles of affected beach on Long Beach Island.

“We really don’t expect anybody to find anything, but you don’t know,” George Follett, an explosives safety specialist for the Army Corps who has been overseeing the removal of the devices, said on Monday. “If there’s a lot of wave action, something might be uncovered.” Keith Watson, the project manager, said he did not expect umbrellas to pose a problem, but children digging too deep might be warned to ease off.

The corps will be holding training sessions with all police, fire and beach personnel, and any interested citizens, about how to handle situations should they arise, Mr. Watson said.

“We’ll be training badge checkers and lifeguards what to look out for,” he said, “and when they see someone digging too far, they’ll politely tell them not to. It’s all part of the public relations.”

It is one public relations campaign that Joe Muzzillo, who owns a Surf City beach shop, could live without. Or maybe not. After hearing that sand castle building and hole digging would be restricted, Mr. Muzzillo decided to skip buying any sand toys and umbrellas for his shop, Exit 63 WearHouse. Instead of the beach paraphernalia, the store’s back wall is now lined with T-shirts that carry slogans like “Save a Tourist — Find a Bomb,” “Surf City’s Da Bomb” and “I Got Bombed on L.B.I.,” for Long Beach Island.

Aside from a couple of complaints, reactions to the shirts have been “98 percent positive,” Mr. Muzzillo said. Still, he’s predicting a weak summer. “Even if the beach is open, I think it’s going to suffer,” he said. “If kids can’t dig and do the normal things kids do, it could be kind of traumatic, especially when they hear the explanation for why. Is a kid ever going to want to dig in the sand again?”

Mary Madonna, the Surf City borough clerk, said the borough has had an ordinance that prohibits digging more than 12 inches at the beach since 2002, when a boy in nearby Loveladies died after digging a deep tunnel that collapsed on him. But she and others at Borough Hall could not say how strictly the law has been enforced.

In Ship Bottom, where about 10 percent of the beaches are affected by the new guidelines, a regulation against digging deep holes also exists, but Mayor William Huelsenbeck said that there was no set depth and that enforcement was left to the discretion of lifeguards.

“We’ve always discouraged deep holes; nothing will change,” Mayor Huelsenbeck said. “Kids can use their shovels and pails. As for metal detectors, certainly we would discourage people from trying to look for these things.”

The explosives problem arose on March 5 when a resident using a metal detector came upon a rusted military fuze, an ignition device incorporating mechanical or electric elements, buried in the sand. Believed to have been dumped off the sides of ships sometime during World War I, the discarded military munitions lay on the ocean floor for 90 years or more, according to Mr. Follett. Last fall, the Army Corps dredged up 500,000 cubic yards of sand from the bottom of the Atlantic as part of a $9 million beach replenishment program for Surf City and part of Ship Bottom.

The joy of getting new, wider beaches was quickly diminished by the discovery of the ordnance, which corps officials said could cause injury or death if detonated.

For the past six weeks, contractors hired by the corps have been sweeping every inch of the replenished beach, using equipment that Mr. Watson and Mr. Follett said could detect devices as deep as three feet with 95 percent accuracy.

At the start of the cleanup effort, Mr. Follett said, the contractors were finding as many as 40 to 50 devices a day. On Monday, doing a second sweep of the areas stirred up by the recent northeaster, the crews found one device. The cleanup has cost $2.3 million to date, according to Mr. Watson, who added that the corps might have to undertake a similar effort next winter.

“Beaches are a dynamic thing,” he said. “We’re not leaving. We’ll follow it through to the end.”


Paula the Surf Mom said...

Now there is a Beach Nourishment project gone awry to the max

clayfin said...

If it weren't so dangerous, it would be a funny story. I mean, bombs from WWI?