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Reida Johnson, a technician with Tetra Tech, uses a metal detector to scan for buried munitions in the area aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico known as UXO 21 May 12. Before the new middle/high school can be built here, the site must cleared of potential unexploded ordnance.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

UXO removal underway aboard Quantico

2 Jun 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

Technicians are currently clearing potential buried munitions from the area encompassing the now-demolished Russell Elementary School and the Child Development Center North aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. The clearance work will ensure that construction of the new middle/high school to be built in that area in coming years can proceed safely. “Most of Main Side aboard Quantico was used for training Marines, because that is the land they had available,” said Amy Denn, MCBQ National Resources and Environmental Affairs branch head. “So this is a necessary part of present-day construction at Quantico.” Any construction project aboard Quantico needs to bereviewed for potential munitions before it proceeds. The current work is being conducted on approximately 19 acres of a 285-acre site designated UXO (unexploded ordnance) 21. Between 1935 and 1943, Marines used it for field training. “We believe it was used for live fire training, so we’re looking for possible buried mortars, grenades and projectiles,” Denn said. The Department of Defense established a UXO removal program in 2001. Russell Elementary School was completed in 1953, before a program to clear former ranges existed. MCBQ is working with Department of Defense Education Activity, Marine Corps Community Services, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete the clearance at this portion of UXO 21. Identifying and clearing UXO is a lengthy and complicated process. It begins with a record review—an archival search of historical documents and images to learn as much as possible about how Marines trained at the time and how the area in question might have been used. “Aerial imagery is particularly helpful,” Denn said. “If they identify an area that is forested in one photograph and then a few years later has been cleared out, that’s a sign that it was turned into a range.” The next step is to complete surface clean up. Once this is complete, a subsurface survey is conducted using an electromagnetic device to measure magnetic anomalies. These surveys must be extremely accurate. The land is divided into lanes and the precise location of each anomaly is recorded. Then technicians take that record, which is extremely detailed, and dig in each spot where an anomaly was recorded to see what turns up. “The trick is to go back to that exact spot on the earth,” Denn said. “Their work is akin to trying to read a phone book.” The digging work at the UXO 21 site will occur between 6:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday. If UXO is discovered, technicians will conduct controlled detonations between 2 and 6 p.m. Saturdays. Denn said that so far, grenades, mortars, and a 37-millimeter projectile have been discovered at the site. Regulations require that a safety buffer zone, known as an exclusion zone, be established based on the maximum suspected munition type. At UXO 21, Denn said, the largest size they would expect to find would be 4.2-inch mortar, which requires an exclusion zone of 316 feet. At times, the exclusion zone will necessitate the closure of Purvis Road, Courtney Drive and nearby sidewalks and trails. The work that affected garages has been completed. Houses or quarters themselves will not be affected, but residents were not able to enter certain garages near the now-demolished Russell Elementary School during specified days and hours. Technicians maintained constant visual checks on the garages and surrounding area during the work to ensure safety. Should an emergency occur while Purvis Road or Courtney Drive is closed, UXO technicians would stop work so that emergency and military police vehicles can pass through. “Our goal is to be done with all the work by July or August,” Denn said. She said that the rainy weather of last month caused several work days to be canceled or halted. There are 30 designated UXO sites on the Main Side of the base. Seven are still in various stages of investigation and clean up while the rest have been closed out or are in the process of being closed out. “Our goal is to address all UXO sites in a way that is mutually acceptable to all players,” Denn said. Writer: auphausconner@quanticosentryonline.com
Marine Corps Base Quantico