North Suffolk site calls for closer look

Published 10:54 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2018

An unexpected discovery at a World War-era ordnance depot in North Suffolk has called for further examination of possible munitions and explosives.

The Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot Restoration Advisory Board met at the Suffolk/Chesapeake Courtyard Marriott on March 1 to discuss progress on the site. Members, including government, business and community representatives, discussed the latest on the area and the project’s schedule.

The military stored ammunition on the 975 acres of waterfront property at the end of College Drive during World Wars I and II. The land was used as a disposal area for bulk explosives, small arms ammunition and scrap metal, and burial pits at the site still contain hazardous material from decades ago.


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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Weston Solutions Inc. conducted field work from Nov. 27 through December to verify that past removal actions had successfully removed munitions and explosive remains from a designated area at the site.

The surveying revealed 3,559 total anomalies, including an area of less than half an acre saturated with 788 anomalies.

“It wasn’t exactly the result we were expecting, given the time we’ve spent on removals,” project manager Sher Zaman said. “To be honest, I was surprised.”

It’s possible that these readings are registering non-explosive materials such as scrap metal, he said.

“Maybe when they did past removals, instead of disposing of scrap metal, they just buried it at the site,” he said.

Removal activities have been conducted at the site since 1988, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but there are gaps in the data that are the result of poor records and technological developments over the decades.

Analysis from October 2014 to November 2016 will identify the extent of groundwater and soil contamination at the TNT area and soccer field, which will be added to the ongoing feasibility study by Weston.

“We have people power today that we can mobilize that we didn’t have 20 or 30 years ago,” said Cliff Opdyke, USACE government co-chair.

Further studies of the anomalies will likely not yield any results by June, Zaman said, but he stressed the importance of verifying what precisely these buried materials are before development on that land begins.

“You would rather have a good, clean site than deal with this later on,” Zaman said.

Tidewater Community College, Virginia Department of Transportation, General Electric and Hampton Roads Sanitation District all own parts of the property, and the TNT site includes a portion of the land owned by TCC Real Estate Foundation.

Matt Baumgarten, executive director of the TCC Real Estate Foundation, said about 80 percent of the 200,000-square-foot Beazley Building at the site has been demolished, with materials recycled for other local projects.

Developer proposals are being accepted for possibilities such as businesses and public parks on the former college campus. That’s why Baumgarten is rallying for USACE to pick up the pace.

“There are people knocking on the door to build this new world for Suffolk, and we want to give it to them,” he said.