Ongoing ordnance cleanup in North Suffolk

Published 9:54 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Buildings are coming down and testing is under way to clean up an old ordnance depot in North Suffolk for future development.

The Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot is 975 acres of waterfront property at the end of College Drive. The military stored ammunition on the land during World Wars I and II, and it was used as a disposal area for bulk explosives, small arms ammunition and scrap metal.

Burial pits at the site still contain hazardous material from decades ago. Removal activities have been conducted at the site since 1988, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but there are gaps in the data due to poor records and technological developments over the decades.

Email newsletter signup

The Restoration Advisory Board met for its quarterly meeting on Dec. 6 to discuss the latest cleanup progress at the former defense site. Among the board members are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel, property owners, local residents and local, state and federal regulators, according to the press release.

Matt Baumgarten, executive director of the TCC Real Estate Foundation, said the 200,000-square-foot Beazley Building at the site is now “completely gone.” The materials were then recycled and the site was hydro-seeded.

“It really opens up that site view,” he said. “The reason we took it down is to let the community know that we’re coming. It’s really made an impression.”

USACE Project Manager Sher Zaman laid out the project schedule moving forward. The plan started with 40 different projects for the site, 26 of which have been completed so far.

“We’re trying as much as possible to have those meetings and get things done,” Zaman said.

An inspection of the Cantonment Area Site is expected to begin this spring. This consists of “general-use” buildings that need to be assessed for environmental and the presence of any contaminants, based on their previous recorded usage as well as ongoing and future testing, according to USACE Geologist Tom Colozza.

“None of these buildings (as of) now have a known issue,” Colozza said. “The goal of the site inspection is to determine the presence or absence of any contaminants that could be an issue.”

Development interests have put the spotlight on what the TCC Real Estate Foundation has dubbed College Point. According to, the foundation plans to offer 245 buildable acres for research and development activity, entertainment, dining, residential options and offices for corporate or medical needs.

The foundation’s master plan for College Point is being done in conjunction with the city of Suffolk. Proposals were requested in October for firms to provide design and engineering services for a James River Shoreline and Open Spaces Project at the College Point development, aimed at restoring about 400 feet of lost shoreline at the site.

Baumgarten said there’s interest in a waterfront park.

“That’s one of the biggest things we’re working on with the city of Suffolk,” he said.

About a year ago, the presidential administration began working to get Superfund sites like the Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot moving, Baumgarten said. The EPA has been tasked with putting more resources into the projects, just as the Foundation has invested millions of dollars towards the site for cleanup efforts.

As Baumgarten said, “timing is everything” when it comes to this “game changer” for North Suffolk and Hampton Roads.

“This project, from what I’ve been told, is the furthest along of any Superfund privately owned (formerly used defense sites) in the country, and this project has been briefed to the president. It’s gone all the way to the White House,” he said.