Lost At Sea

By John Liang / March 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Defense Department will likely miss a congressionally mandated deadline to identify all its underwater chemical and conventional munitions dump sites around U.S. coastlines due to budget constraints, Stuart Parker from sister publication Defense Environment Alert reports today.

An Army munitions cleanup expert told state waste officials earlier this month that the inventory is the first step in addressing underwater weapons remediation -- an issue for which a long-term national strategy still must be developed, DEA reports. In addition:

J.C. King, an Army munitions cleanup specialist, told the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials March 5 that the inventory work, which relies on archival research, is falling behind schedule because of budget shortfalls. “Neither Army or Navy currently has the funds required for this research, although both are doing research,” an Army source confirms.

Federal defense authorization law requires that DOD produce a final report on the position of all known munitions dumps at sea by the end of fiscal 2009. King said that to meet this requirement, the Army and Navy are taking an inventory of sites in an effort to list them in DOD’s 2010 annual environmental report to Congress. But “we are not going to make that, especially for conventional weapons,” he warned.

The Army is asking the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) for an additional $1 million to complete the work on time, but without it the Army will probably have to ask for a deadline extension, the Army source says. The source adds that OSD is aware of the problem.

The military is facing key questions over where to go in terms of cleanup once the sites are identified. King said that development of a long-term national strategy for underwater weapons remediation is essential, noting that over time, the munitions will degrade and may discharge their contents into the water and sediments on the seabed. Devising such a strategy would involve talks with EPA, King said. At the same time, he called for a “risk-based” approach, weighing the risks of disturbing munitions for cleanup with leaving them alone.

A spokesman for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), one of the chief architects of the reporting requirement, says that the delay in completing the inventory is more than a nuisance, “as it raises questions of public health. Those timeframes for reporting are put there for a reason, not to be ignored, not to be unilaterally changed.” The spokesman was previously unaware of the delay, and would not comment further on what action Abercrombie may take in relation to it. . . .