The Booming Surf

May 9, 2007

Turns out there’s a drawback to those beach replenishment projects up and down the Jersey Shore — unexploded ordnance that was dumped offshore decades ago, inadvertently sucked up by the Army Corps of Engineers dredges:

While other Jersey Shore towns are busy sprucing up the beaches for Memorial Day, the residents of Surf City stare wistfully at a brand new, replenished oceanfront that has been closed since March 5, when a beachcomber with a metal detector found a rusty fuse at the surf’s edge.

Since then, cleanup crews for the Army Corps of Engineers have found more than 1,000 unexploded old munitions. They were buried in the 500,000 cubic yards of sand that was sucked up from the ocean floor and sprayed onto the shore in the first phase of the Long Beach Island beach replenishment project.

More than $2 million has already been spent recovering the old military ordnance, but project leaders warn they cannot guarantee the Surf City beaches will be reopened for the all-important start of the summer season less than three weeks away.

“We were ahead of schedule and should have been done by now, but then the nor’easter hit. There was a significant movement of sand and more ordnance emerged,” said George Follett, a retired Navy bomb expert and corps munitions expert, as he gazed at crews with metal detectors scouring the sand.

“So we’re going back over the entire 8,100-foot stretch of beach, to do it again,” this time going into the surf, 150-feet out from the low tide mark, he added.

Every now and then there’s a story about some diver off Sandy Hook who finds an oddly shaped rock, brings it home for his saltwater aquarium, then discovers he has a 1950s vintage grenade parked next to his clownfish. But that’s only to be expected — Sandy Hook was a testing site for all kinds of weapons before it became a national park.

This is a new one on me. Too bad The Sopranos is folding its tent this season: they could have had the Army Corps dredge up Big Pussy for another plot twist.

Considering the prevailing Long Beach Island attitude toward outsiders, I’m surprised they didn’t vote to leave the ordnance in the sand.

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