By DON STINE
Sun bathers hitting the beaches from Deal to Loch Arbour this summer should not be surprised if they find an old bullet, button or other artifact in the sand.
Sand for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project from Loch Arbour to Deal is being taken off of Sandy Hook, host to the U.S. Army’s Civil War era Fort Hancock.
Old bullets and musket balls, uniform buttons, coins and even old shark teeth have been found in the sand since it was placed on the beach in Deal.
Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf said her organization deals mainly with ocean water quality rather than beach replenishment issues. But, she said it should be no surprise that old military artifacts will be in the beach-replenishment sand since Fort Hancock was used extensively for training and munitions testing since the Civil War.
Zipf said that people should be “understandably concerned” if their child finds a bullet or munition in the sand but she said finding old artifacts on the beach, as long as they are safe, is also a form of historic preservation.
“It’s a kind of historic excavation and provides evidence about activities that occurred on Sandy Hook in the past. Maybe your find will be a treasure- it’s a very historic region,” she said.
Treasure hunters and the curious should be advised that it is illegal to enter any ongoing federal beach-replenishment site.
And while finding a piece of history is fun and interesting, in this case caution also needs to be applied, a local munitions collector said.
Last year about 180 World War I-era booster components for firing howitzers were found on the beach in Loch Arbour and Allenhurst and the Army Corps plans to sift the sand down eight feet to remove them, although a date has not been announced when that project will begin.
Arthur Green, who lives in West Long Branch and collects military artifacts including spent or deactivated ordnance, said caution always needs to be used when dealing with any ordnance, old or new.
“From what I am seeing coming off the beach, there are some cartridges in the original metal wraps, not just the projectiles. They are complete cartridges but smaller caliber, like 22s,” he said.
Green said some ordnance propellants can get more volatile with age and, even if in salt water for decades, one cannot assume water has gotten into the bullet.
“Always treat any ordinance as if it were live and potentially hazardous,” he said.“If you can’t identify it, then I would not even touch it. Just mark the area, contact some official and report it. You shouldn’t go around collecting it and picking it up. Weird things happen and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Green said the boosters the Army Corps is looking to remove remind him of old CO2 cartridges for pellet air guns and are about the size of a C- or D-size battery.
“People could think they are just an old car part and pick them up but they need to be concerned and careful about them. If the Army Corp is collecting them then they must see some hazard in them,” he said.
The sifting project will not remove smaller objects, like bullets, coins or buttons.
Beachgoers in Loch Arbour and Deal were prohibited from digging deep holes in the sand or having bonfires due to concerns over the boosters last year. However, the situation did not affect beach attendance and beach revenues and attendance were pretty consistent with those of the previous year, an Allenhurst official said.
Loch Arbour’s Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution urging the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Protection “to do everything in their power to commence the project to clean-up the village’s beach.”
Larger-sized stones that also came in with the sand are also a concern there.
Deal Borough Administrator Stephen Carasia said that no date has been set yet for the sifting of the sand due to a lack of funding since it was not in the project’s original budget.
“In February there was still no funding but hopefully they will do it by the summer season,” he said.
He said sand will be shifted between Loch Arbour and Clem Conover Road in Deal.
Zipf said the Army Corps removes sand from Sandy Hook because the natural littoral drift in the ocean dumps it there naturally.
“And it’s better to remove sand from these areas of sand accrual than to take it from natural offshore shoals that are important marine life and fisheries,” she said.
The 3.5-mile project will replenish beaches from the Elberon section of Long Branch south to Loch Arbour by pumping about 3.4 million cubic yards of sand onto beaches at a cost of $3.8 million.