Feds eye search for undetonated WWII rockets buried in Reid State Park beach

Reid State Park beach during a fall sunset.
Ralph Wilkinson | Courtesy photo
Reid State Park beach during a fall sunset.
Posted Jan. 23, 2013, at 11:03 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2013, at 11:31 a.m.

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GEORGETOWN, Maine — There’s no immediate danger, but federal authorities may one day return to Reid State Park to search for more unexploded ordnance beneath Mile Beach.

The ordnance is buried in sand and contains the remains of rockets used by Brunswick Naval Air Station flight crews during World War II exercises.

In the winter of 1996-97, extensive beach erosion uncovered pieces of ordnance, none of which was deemed to pose a threat to park users.

A sign was posted in spring 1997 reminding beach-goers not to touch any surfaced ordnance and to inform park staff of its location.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited the site and worked with the state to remove the ordnance in November 2009 as part of its Formerly Used Defense Sites program.

Recently, investigators “found 100 subsurface anomalies — signals that probably were metallic in nature,” said Gary Morin, who runs the Formerly Used Defense Sites program in the Northeast for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Based on that, along with the 1997 removal, we’re recommending this project for future investigation,” Morin said this week.

Morin said he doesn’t believe there are explosives beneath the sand. Propellants are a possible concern, he said.

“We believe there’s not a lot of risk there,” he said, “but at some point in time, we will do another investigation.

“Higher-risk sites are higher on the list,” he added, “so it will probably be a decade or more.”

The 1997 cleanup began Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 10, closing the park to visitors.

According to the Maine Department of Conservation, 72 pieces of ordnance were extracted, including 44 rocket motors, metal pipes 3½-4½ inches in diameter and a few feet long, and 28 warheads each 5 inches in diameter.

No live ordnance was found. Only traces of rocket propellant were detected.

Between the winter and the end of the cleanup operation, more than 200 pieces were removed from Mile Beach, the department reported.

During World War II, aviators practiced aiming test rockets at a barge anchored next to Mile Beach. Rocket motors and warheads landed on the beach and were worked down into the beach by waves.

During periods of extreme beach erosion, such as in the 1978 blizzard, pieces of metal ordnance were reworked deeper into the beach. Today, debris is buried a few feet below the average winter beach profile, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

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