Bombs found in scrap yard not a threat, experts say

Practice weapons blown up

all contained concrete

May 11, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Army explosives experts destroyed the 12 bombs found in a ship scrap yard on Baltimore's waterfront and discovered that they were practice weapons full of concrete -- not explosives as authorities had suspected, a military spokeswoman said yesterday.

"Usually, the military uses plaster or concrete munitions like this for training purposes," said Pat McClung, a spokeswoman for Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the bombs were buried and then blown open with explosives.

The proving ground's High Explosives Team dug up the remnants of the bombs after the demolition Saturday, McClung said. The inspection found only the metal casings and inert filler.

The revelation that the bombs were not a threat came after the state closed off Baltimore's Harbor Tunnel and a section of Interstate 895 for about five hours Wednesday night and early Thursday. The bombs were found by construction workers clearing a former shipyard on the industrial Fairfield waterfront.

As a team of soldiers removed the bombs and strapped them to the back of a flatbed truck, police imposed a potential blast zone of more than a mile radius, keeping out boats, aircraft and people.

Darlene Frank, director of communications for the Maryland Port Administration, which owns the land, said it was a wise precaution that state and military officials treated the bombs as if they contained live explosives.

No one was certain what was inside them, she said, and it is better to be safe than sorry.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Frank said. "The safety and security of Marylanders is extremely important. God forbid that the situation had turned out in a different way."

Military officials said the bombs looked potentially dangerous, even if they were duds. Large and rusty, the bombs weighed as much as 4,000 pounds, with the biggest longer than a person. They were found in a heap of scrap metal at 3000 Childs St., where Navy ships, including the USS Coral Sea, were dismantled in the 1990s.

The port administration will probably keep the gate to the 10-acre site padlocked until it decides whether it is safe for contractors to continue cleaning up the land, Frank said.

The state hopes to pave the former scrap yard and lease it to a company for the storage of vehicles carried in on cargo ships.

Karl Kalbacher, environmental program administrator for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said state officials will likely ask the Army Corps of Engineers to double-check the property, to make sure there are no live weapons hidden in other scrapheaps.

The department has a report from the Corps of Engineers showing that the Navy bought some of the land in 1941 from the city to help expand ship work being performed for the Maryland Ship Building and Drydock Co., Kalbacher said.

Because the Navy owned the land at one point, it bears some responsibility for making sure it is safe, Kalbacher said.

Marshall Hudson, spokesman for the Corps of Engineers unit in Maryland, said yesterday that he is not sure that is accurate. He said a preliminary review of maps shows the land was never owned by the Navy, so the legal responsibility for cleanup might rest with the state.

But he added that the Corps of Engineers could help inspect the site, if the state asked for assistance and the federal and state governments approved it.

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