Thursday, December 16, 2010

WWII Munitions Cleanup Begins at Seattle Cruise Facility

While falling short of saying that old military munitions found on the seabed under a Port of Seattle cruise terminal presented no danger, a commander for the Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that the explosives were not a major threat.

While the munitions need to be addressed, said Army Corps commander of the Seattle area Col. Anthony Wright, his office said in a statement that, "There is a low explosive hazard risk associated with discarded military munitions and no explosive hazard risk associated with munitions debris."

The World War II-era debris, including live munitions and non-explosive debris from various munitions, were discovered by port police divers performing routine underwater security sweeps in April. Additional dives by the US Coast Guard in the summer located more munitions. The munitions, which have been removed as they have been found, have all been located near the berthing area at the port's Terminal 91 cruise facility.

The U.S. Navy used the pier between the 1930s and 1970s, in part, to load ammunition aboard Navy vessels. It is speculated that the munitions and debris fell overboard or was discarded during these loading procedures. They sat hidden in the muck on the bottom until, in the most accepted scenario, the bow thrusters of modern cruise ships calling at the pier uncovered the munitions.

The Army Corps is leading a $10 million cleanup effort in conjunction with the Coast Guard, EPA, Navy and port. The Army Corps began the project on Dec. 14 with an assessment of the areas around piers 90 and 91 using sonar, remotely operated vehicles, and divers.

"This assessment will provide the basis for using digital geophysical mapping and divers to perform a surface and subsurface removal of military munitions," said an Army Corps statement.

The cleanup project is expected to be complete by April 15, 2011, just prior to the start of the cruise ship season.