ASSATEAGUE – Assateague’s North Ocean Beach swimming area reopened to the public Thursday after the discovery of military munitions debris prompted a four-day closure.
On Thursday, Assateague Island National Seashore Interpretation and Education Chief Liz Davis announced the park’s North Ocean Beach area has reopened to the public following a days-long effort to address pieces of military munition debris that have washed up onto the beach in recent weeks.
Worcester County Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Korb said as of Wednesday teams have recovered and rendered safe 11 devices that have been located in the area. The Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office led the operation with assistance from the National Park Service and the Dover Air Force Base (AFB) Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team.
“In a joint procedure determined by the NPS, Dover AFB EOD staff and the Fire Marshal’s Office, if any new devices are located, an area 200 feet around the device will be immediately closed to the public until such time Fire Marshal’s Office staff and Dover AFB EOD professionals can respond, identify and remove or render safe as necessary,” Korb said in a statement Wednesday. “Without knowing the number of devices that are out there and specifically where they are coming from, this cycle could go on for quite some time.”
On Sunday, Assateague Island National Seashore (AINS) announced a partial closure at the North Ocean Beach swimming area following the discovery of multiple pieces of military ammunition debris on the beach over the last two weeks, according to a news release.
During the 1940s, the U.S. Navy used the northern portion of Assateague Island as a test range for rockets and bombs. And in the 1950s, a cleanup effort resulted in munitions debris being buried in pits on the island.
“Due to the natural movement of the island and sea level rise, some of these pits are now offshore,” a statement from AINS reads. “It is likely that the large nor’easter in May disturbed the nearshore seafloor and uncovered one of these pits. This has resulted in pieces of ordinance coming ashore.”
In the days since the beach closure was announced, the fire marshal’s office and the Dover Air Force Base EOD team have assisted the park in dealing with the recovered debris and developing a plan of action.
While AINS initially reported the discovery of seven pieces of military munition debris, that number had grown to 11 as of Wednesday, according to Korb. He said that while a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defines the buried material as being inactive, recent X-rays of the recovered debris prove otherwise.
“It should be noted the report mentions many times throughout the devices they surveyed were inert,” he said, “but to the contrary the EOD professionals have x-rayed every device they have recovered over the last three weeks and have determined they are indeed not inert and take actions to render them safe immediately.”
AINS reports most the pieces found in recent weeks are metal fragments, but that some may still contain residue of either explosives or propellant. They urge park visitors to notify park staff if they find any piece of unidentified metal on the beach.
“Unfortunately, there have been several instances of visitors picking up rocket fragments and carrying them to either the lifeguards or, in one instance, the visitor center,” a statement reads. “Please do not do this as it is potentially very dangerous.”