Army won't duck queries on 'Superpond,' Akin vows Commander at APG acknowledges issues linked to blast-test project.

June 12, 1991|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

The outgoing commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground has pledged that the Army will address all environmental questions related to the proposed "Superpond" project, which would test the effects of underwater explosions on submarines and ships.

"We're trying to do what's right," Maj. Gen. George H. Akin said during a briefing on the project yesterday. "We'll take a good, hard look at it,".

Akin, stressing the economic benefits of the $22 million project to be built along the Bush River, added that the proving ground was trying to meet the Navy's schedule for beginning testing in late summer of 1992. "We've got to get all this done before September," he said of the environmental review.

The Superpond project, formally called the Underwater Explosions Test Facility, consists of a 920-foot wide, 150-foot deep pond. It is similar in concept to the Army's $13 million "Superbox" project completed recently at the proving ground.

In Superbox, tanks and other armored vehicles are placed in a thick steel dome and blasted with various armor-piercing ammunition to determine how the vehicles would hold up under enemy fire. In Superpond, full-scale models of submarine and ship sections would be exposed to "near-miss" explosions to determine the soundness of the structures and sophisticated electronics inside.

Both types of tests are mandated by Congress. In the case of Superpond, the Navy says the project is important to the development of the Seawolf attack submarine.

Local lawmakers and some regulators complained recently that the Army was rushing the environmental review of Superpond and not allowing enough time for public comment before construction begins. In response, the proving ground has scheduled a public meeting on the project for Tuesday and agreed to extend the public comment period until June 28.

Those questioning the project have raised concerns about effects on the proving ground's large population of bald eagles, possible contamination of ground water and possible contamination of the Bush River due to dredging.

Proving ground officials said yesterday that the proposed dredging -- needed so barges can transport ship sections weighing as much as 2,000 tons to Superpond -- could be slowed if enough unexploded bombs and shells were found in the river.

"Any dredging project is an important environmental consideration for us," said Richard F. Pecora, an assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "There will be lots of people looking at this," he added, referring to the project as a whole.

State and federal permits are required before the proving ground can begin construction, tentatively set for this summer.

The military regards Superpond as a positive environmental step. For decades prior to 1987, the Navy conducted such tests in the lower Chesapeake Bay, but fish kills brought them to a halt. Similar tests then were conducted near Key West, Fla., and off the coast of California, but concerns were raised about effects on dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life.

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