Jun 15, 2007

Seal Island clean up: out of sight, out of money, out of mind.

The congressionally funded interagency group planning the cleanup of bomb waste from two marine islands off Maine used for bombing practice during WW2 and Korean War, may have the will, but not the way, to actually search for and clean up the suspected thousands of rounds of cannon shells and rockets that trainee pilots rained upon, not these islands themselves, but the hundreds of acres of seafloor surrounding them. To this day, aging bombs and rockets continue to wash ashore from this ghostly undersea cache.

But the 'Cleanup' as presently planned ignores this toxic hoard. See the official public notice

The word from the two program managers running the planning project - Sheila Holt of US Army Corps of Engineers and Ted Wolfe of Maine DEP - is that despite the suspected presence of 100s of bombs and rockets on the seafloor around the island, and the near total absence of ordnance remaining on the island itself, the Seal Island munitions cleanup will be restricted to topside. or at most the intertidal areas.

Above the tideline only? Why? After all, several generations of student bomber-trainees frequently missed the slender W-shaped island during their practice bombing runs.

To this day, scores of bay-area fishermen can recount encounters with sunken ordnance during their careers. Note that this statement has been rejected as false by at least three area fishermen with extensive experience with those waters and the area fishing communities, who state that apart from a few metal fragments, there have been no unexploded shells or rockets washed up, towed up or snarled up from the waters around Seal Island, and consider it highly unlikely that any shells or rockets remain intact in the subtidal around seal Island

The agencies' explanation -- waters too deep round the island for scuba-diving UXO hunters-- doesn't...ahem... hold water.

At least one third of the seafloor (about 2 square miles) in the munitions danger area is less then 120 feet deep, the diving depth limit set out in the federal Munitions Response Site Protocol.

Regardless, the plan being worked out for possible adoption this month would set a no-dive precedent for cleanup of ex-bomb range islands in marine waters. Duck Island, in the Maine part of the Isles of Shoals archipelago, comes next, and then other marine islands that were used for bombing practices off the US coast.

A cleanup program that excludes mapping and cleaning up marine bomb waste from seafloors adjacent to island bomb ranges is unacceptable.


Contact the federal and state leaders of the project. (See contact info below).

Explain that it is
their duty under the Protocol
to evaluate and clean up submerged unexploded ordnance in the public waters around Seal Island. The plan should not be finalized until it includes this activity.

Remind them that

* At least a third of the seafloor within the Seal Island Danger Area is shallower than 120 feet, the official safe scuba diving limit set by the federal government for UXO cleanups;

* UXO continues to wash ashore the island from these waters.

* Fishermen continue to report encounters with unexploded ordnance in the vicinity.

Who to contact:

Sheila Holt
Geographical District Project Manager
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
New England District 696 Virginia Road Concord , MA 01742-2751
Phone: 978-318-8174
Email: shiela.d.holt AT usace.army.mil


Ted Wolfe
Program manager
Military Munitions Response Program
Bureau of Remediation and Waste management
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
Phone: 207-287-2651 or 287-8552
E-mail: Theodore.E.Wolfe AT maine.gov

Getting your concerns on the record quickly is critical. Be brief and to the point. The draft plan goes before the cleanup committee on Monday June 11th, The two officials above need to have things emailed to them before the close of that day, if not sooner.

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