Army enlists robots to clear munitions near Pokai Bay


POSTED: Friday, December 04, 2009

The Army will undertake an unprecedented $2.5 million underwater robotics demonstration project beginning in October designed to remove or destroy up to 1,500 conventional munitions dumped off Pokai Bay.

Tad Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for the environment, safety and occupational health, said the Ordnance Reef project will cost $6 million and also includes studying the long-term effects on aquatic life and regenerating coral reefs in the area.

The $6 million does not include another $1.6 million being spent by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which placed four underwater sensors at the dump site in July. The sensors will record the speed and direction of ocean currents over a year to determine where munitions materials would go if they were ever released.

Davis met with the Waianae and Nanakuli neighborhood boards last night to review the situation at Ordnance Reef as well as the ongoing effort to clean up the training range at Makua Valley to allow more access to cultural sites in the area.

The Army stopped live-fire training in the 4,190-acre valley in 2004, pending completion of the environmental impact statement in June. However, it has conducted other training exercises that do not require the use of ammunition.

A federal judge said last month the Army will have to show that maneuvers in the Leeward valley would not contaminate ocean resources or damage cultural sites.

Davis said preliminary results of a series of tests sampling the water and sediment in Ordnance Reef earlier this year show “;no high levels of metal.”;

“;It will be a couple of months before we get the results of tests on fish and limu,”; Davis said.

The conventional munitions — as opposed to chemical or nuclear ordnance — ranges from .50-caliber or smaller ammunition to 50- to 100-pound bombs and 105 mm projectiles. Many of the bombs and shells have been in the water so long that they have been become part of the reef.

Davis said the Army wants to clear away dumped weapons from the shore to nearly a mile out, up to a depth of 120 feet.

It will be “;a synchronized effort”; to remove the munitions and destroy them so that the Army will not have to store them, Davis said.

“;There are no immediate plans to detonate munitions that are embedded in the coral reef,”; Davis said, “;but it is certainly on our list of options.”;