Camp Lejeune asks fishermen, boaters to avoid section of the New River
Local waters around a training range in Onslow County may pose a threat to people attempting to harvest oysters, clams, crabs and fish. Earlier this month, Camp Lejeune officials advised the public to avoid areas along the New River because of the possibility of unexploded munitions underwater. While the military hasn’t officially restricted these waters, some commercial fishermen around Sneads Ferry are concerned it’s only a matter of time before they do.
“People are scared around here, if you let them take that, they’re not going to stop with that.”
That’s Stump Sound Seafood dealer Joseph Huie. He’s fished the waters near the K-2 Range for more than four decades.
“I’ve been overboard catching clamming with my feet, we catch clams with our feet a lot of us do around here do. And I never found nothing. And personally, I hadn’t seen nor caught nothing though there.”
The K2 Impact Area, located on the western banks of the New River, is used today for infantry weapons training, mortar fires, field artillery indirect fires, and infantry rocket training. While clearing unexploded ordinance from the land several years ago, more ordinance was discovered on the waterfront above the high water mark. Director of Public Affairs for Marine Corps Camp Lejeune and New River Nat Fahy.
“The area covers about 4 ½ miles, about 800 acres of water. Essentially, we’ve identified a real hazard, a real safety hazard.”
Extensive analysis of the site using divers and a magnetometer was conducted from 2012 to 2014 to determine the seriousness of the issue. And an aerial survey using ground penetrating radar detected than 7,000 anomalies around the banks of the New River, in the K-2 range. Anomalies are anything in the water that isn’t natural like man-made objects like propellers, crab pots and even shoulder fired rocket and artillery shells.
“We did a sampling of about 10 percent of those anomalies and 10 percent of the 10 percent were identified to have explosive properties.”
Fahy says unexploded shells are from training exercises conducted during the 1940’s through the 1970’s. Currently, there are no active ranges that fire into the waters of the New River. As a result of their findings, the Marine Corps is alerting the public by posting more than 50 signs within the area urging people to avoid all bottom disrupting activity. This includes anchoring, clam raking, harvesting oysters, crabbing, bottom trawling and some types of fishing.
“What we want to do is advise the public to limit their activities in the waters and also let them know that we will also be conducting a study to evaluate the impact from the proposed limitations.”
Camp Lejeune officials held a public meeting Wednesday evening at the Sneads Ferry Community Center to answer questions and hear input from residents about how to deal with the ordinance at the K-2 Range. Fahy says about 150 people were at the two hour meeting.
“I think ultimately they were relieved that there are no measures being taken to close that area to fishermen , just that we are in the process of putting up warning signs, warning the public about the dangers of engaging in bottom disturbing activities in this area.”
Fahy says comments from the meeting will help the Marine Corp draft an environmental assessment, which will determine how to deal with debris.
“It may mean cleaning up the area and it may mean restricting that area all together. The most important objective is to ensure that the public is safe from any danger that lies underneath the water at the K-2 range.”
The public can still submit online comments through February 8th.
Stump Sound Seafood dealer Joseph Huie estimates 10 to 15 percent of the food he sells comes from the K-2 area. He says restricting access to that spot impacts fishermen and seafood dealers like himself in and around Sneads Ferry.
“It’s one of the primary areas. Just because you see water doesn’t mean clams or oysters grow in it. There’s an area right across the river from that area that there’s not hardly no clams or nothing.”
And that’s why Huie went back to the site this week and plans to continue to fish there despite the warnings.
“You know, there’s never been not one incident where something has blown up or anyone’s gotten hurt. It’s just funny that all of the sudden it’s come up and you’re talking 60, 70 years.”
From comments gathered at the Wednesday public meeting, Fahy says he understands some people won’t stop harvesting from the waters near the K-2 Range. Still, he says it’s their job is to let people know that there is a “serious risk” engaging in bottom disrupting activities.
“The Marine Corps doesn’t have the power to close these waters. The Corps of Engineers does. All we can do is make recommendations to them to possibly restrict those waters. But that is a long, long way off. Ultimately, the primary objective is to mitigate any hazards to the public in those areas.”
Another concern is how the ordinance affects the environment. Fahy says the impact will be studied in the environmental assessment which will begin once warning signs are installed at the site. For more information and to submit a comment, go to http://k2rangeproject.com/