- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A little more than a year ago, old World War II-era munitions were discovered on the shoreline at Newtowne Neck State Park. The park in Compton has been closed to the public ever since, and just last week was used by a bomb squad as a site to explode a World War I-era mine found in Hollywood.
But the park was not intended to be a proving ground.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources bought the 790-acre property in 2009 for $14 million for public use of the natural, cultural, historical and recreational features of the park, bounded by Breton Bay, the Potomac River and St. Clement Bay.
At least 25 pieces of ordnance were found through December 2011 to January 2012 and detonated on site, which brought planning for the park’s use to a dead halt.
The St. Mary’s County commissioners recently asked the state what the status of the park was. John R. Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, wrote on Dec. 20, that there has been no change in the park’s status. DNR is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the military activity that once was located at Newtowne Neck and the danger it may pose now.
“In our ongoing communications with the Army, we have learned that the necessary research is a lengthy and painstaking process, and we have not been provided with a definite time line for completion,” Griffin wrote. “Future planning for the site may very well be affected by the response to our request for a Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) determination, which is dependent on the outcome of the aforementioned research. Until we have that, everything is essentially on hold.”
Andrea Takash, public affairs specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, said this week that research continues on the kinds of activities that took place at Newtowne Neck during World War II.
“We’re working through a very thorough process right now,” she said, working with the Navy to collect documents from several different locations. “There’s so many documents,” she said, “definitely archive work. We’re still working with the Navy.”
If the park is designated as a Formerly Used Defense Site, federal dollars become available for actual site investigation, assessment and how best to respond, she said. That could entail a full cleanup or placing signs to make visitors aware of what could be found.
The (Baltimore) Sun first reported what went on at Newtowne Neck on Nov. 25, 1945, just a few months after World War II ended. The remote location was a secret testing ground for proximity fuses, which were used in anti-aircraft artillery. There is still a bunker at the park, that was used for cover during the testing.
After the testing was finished, the land reverted back to farming under the ownership of the Jesuits.
Christy Bright, park manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said this week it made sense for the local bomb squad to detonate the mine at Newtowne Neck since no one is supposed to be there. “It still is closed to all public,” she said, and state staff only do minimal upkeep there for the time being.
No hunting is allowed at the park either, except for waterfowl hunting, which must be done by boat, offshore.
A woman who rented a house near the water on the site before the state bought the land, still resides there, and there is no termination date on that lease with the state, Bright said.
No further munitions have been found at Newtowne Neck since the park was closed, but if someone finds something, they need to recognize, retreat and report it to 911, Bright said.
As for the reopening the park to the public, “It is going to happen one day. Once the park does open back up, we’re going to continue in the park planning,” she said.
So while the Army Corps of Engineers continues its research, “We would love it if no more munitions are found,” she said.
Jack Russell (D), president of the St. Mary’s County commissioners, said Thursday he understands why the park remains closed and is in no hurry to see it reopened. “They gotta look at this ordnance first. They’re just trying to be safe,” he said.