The continued discovery of unexploded practice bombs from World War II has forced the immediate closure of Little Neck on Chappaquiddick to all public access.
The Trustees of Reservations, which owns the property, announced Friday that approximately 60 acres along the western edge of Cape Pogue Bay will be closed indefinitely.
The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking permission from the U.S. Congress to initiate an emergency response plan for Little Neck, which will allow them to hire a munitions removal contractor to sweep the area for ordnance and dispose of any that is found.
Meanwhile, the Trustees are placing signs around the property warning people to stay away. Signs will also be posted along the shore of Little Neck that are visible from the water, alerting boaters not to come ashore.
Chris Kennedy, Islands regional director for the Trustees, said on Friday the recent discovery of ordnance is somewhat puzzling. “The recent trend is we are finding more and more of these [munitions]. Perhaps we are seeing more of these because of erosion, but the truth is we’re not sure why we are finding more now than ever,” he said.
Mr. Kennedy said a bomb squad from the Massachusetts State Police and detonations team from the U.S. Navy went out to Little Neck on Thursday and detonated eight practice bombs. The Trustees decided the best plan was to close Little Neck indefinitely until all munitions are removed.
Mr. Kennedy said this marks the first time the Trustees have closed a property because of munitions. He said a majority of the bombs do not pose a threat, but an inherent risk to public safety remains.
“Most of these [munitions] are safe, but we’re not going to take chances. Public safety is obviously our number one concern,” he said.
Mr. Kennedy said unexploded ordnance are frequently found on other properties owned or managed by the Trustees, including South Beach and the Long Point Wildlife Refuge in West Tisbury. He drew a distinction between a live bomb and an unexploded practice bomb.
Many practice bombs used for dive bomb practice during World War II were not functioning weapons, Mr. Kennedy said, but had a small explosive charge in the nose cone that shot out red phosphorous that signaled to the pilot where the bomb landed. Practice bombs and their small explosive charges can potentially be hazardous to people.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of rusted warheads and practice bombs were pulled from South Beach, including a 1,700-pound torpedo recovered in July of 1994.
During recovery efforts from 1989 to 1994, portions of South Beach were closed to the public for long stretches while the military searched for and removed unexploded ordnance.
Carol Charette, operations manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, said last month that the New England District Corps of Engineers will conduct a preliminary assessment and inventory project report for the area. She said the area from Wasque Point to Cape Pogue will likely be added to the military munitions response program. Availability of funding will determine when the removal project begins.
She also said the South Beach cleanup effort started in the late 1980s will be amended to extend the boundaries to Norton Point and Wasque.