Drained pond yields little

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It could have been a drum of toxic chemicals or a live M-18 smoke grenade.

Turns out, it was just an eight-foot steel pipe and several feet of coiled wire, likely buried in the sludge at the bottom of Horseshoe Pond for decades.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent most of last week draining more than 300,000 gallons of water from the shallow, murky lake sitting in the shadow of the former Nansemond Ordnance Depot. The military used the old depot, built in 1914 on 975 acres that is now home to Tidewater Community College and a former General Electric plant, to recycle munitions from World Wars I and II.

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Draining the 1.2-acre Horseshoe Pond is a small part of an ongoing toxic cleanup of the site, under way since the former depot was named to the federal government’s Superfund National Priority List six years ago. More than $28 million has been spent on the cleanup since 1999.

The site hit the environmental spotlight in 1987, when a chunk of explosive TNT was found near TCC’s soccer field.

It’s not uncommon for live munitions to be found on the property; a hunk of TNT the size of a Volkswagen Beetle has been found in years past, said Cliff Walden, site supervisor with Zapata Engineering, the firm handling the cleanup.

Officials decided to drain Horseshoe Pond – one of four manmade lakes on the site – two years ago after a magnetic scan revealed two large blips that could not be identified.

&uot;We thought we were dealing with something that was a lot larger than what we found,&uot; Walden said. &uot;The blips made it look like it was a tank.

&uot;No one knew what was there until we got in and looked around.&uot;

No munitions were discovered when the pond was drained, said George H. Mears, the corps’ project manager.

However, the EPA has discovered an array of other artillery – shell casings, parts of anti-chemical weaponry kits, even French, German and Japanese grenades – at adjacent cleanup sites, he said.

Two M-18 smoke grenades have been found near the pond in the past, he added.

Water drained from the pond – which averaged about 4 feet deep – flowed through filters of natural vegetation and a silt fence before dumping into the Nansemond River, Mears said. Both the EPA and the state Department of Environment Control gave the green light to the corps’ method of drainage, he said.

The pond – a haven for small fish, frogs and eels – will eventually refill naturally, Walden said.