The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to gain access to nearly 6,000 acres of private property to search for potential unexploded ordnance at the former Conway Bombing and Gunnery Range.
The Corps sent out 600 letters to property owners near the munitions response sites of the former bombing range, which is in the Conway and Carolina Forest areas.
Conway Bombing and Gunnery Range was one of hundreds of ranges used in the southeastern United States and was used extensively in World War II, said Billy Birdwell, public affairs specialist with the corporate communications office at the Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Department of Defense was directed by Congress to make sure the areas are safe and clean and suitable for other purposes. The Department of Defense assigned that duty to the Corps of Engineers because of its expertise in the area, Birdwell said.
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An initial search was conducted in 2012.
“We’ve done investigations there before,” Birdwell said. “We did a recent review investigation phase, which is part of the same project, back in 2012. We’ve already talked to some people and we’ve already done some investigating on some properties out there. That gave us information that we had to go back there and do a more extensive investigation to see how much further the unexploded ordnance or material may be located.”
“This time we did a larger area. We blanketed letters to all the owners in the area based on county tax records.”
Once permission is granted, the Corps will use metal detectors, similar to those used to scour the beach for metals on the sand, only “more sophisticated and stronger,” Birdwell said.
“We know, based on the signal we get back, pretty much what we’re running across, whether it’s just an old can that was buried there a few years ago or if it’s something else that’s been there since 1944,” said Birdwell.
Birdwell said the Corps either documents the findings or takes further action for removal.
“The investigation will then tell us what we need to do about it,” Birdwell said. “In some cases, all we need to do is make note of it. In other words, we have investigated here and found nothing that poses any kind of threat or danger to human life or danger to the environment. Or it could be based on what is being done on the property at the time. While there may be material there that could pose a danger, there’s nothing there and it’s just empty land. In other words, people are just using it for grazing or hunting, and it’s perfectly safe for that because the material is buried.”
Dennis DiSabato, president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association, said the search has “not been on the radar” of the civic association, but said as a real estate attorney, he has seen the bomb material in plenty of property descriptions.
“We see those kinds of notifications in the title work whenever someone buys property out there,” DiSabato said. “It’s not uncommon to see that there might be some unexploded ordnance out there.”
Birdwell said the Corps has until early 2016 to finish the remedial investigation, and hopes to continue to receive rights-of-entry forms from residents who received them in the mail.
“What we’re particularly interested in is if there’s something near people’s homes or where people are actively living their lives, then there are other actions we have to take,” Birdwell said. “It’s actually in everyone’s benefit. That way we can tell what’s there and determine what we need to do with it next.”