Army to clear WWII debris from Hamptons training sites
Long before the better-off flocked to the Hamptons for the summer beach season, the area served as a training ground for WWII troops, and the eastern end of Long Island is still littered with dangerous remains.
The US military is now back to Westhampton and other neighboring areas to clean up unexploded ordnance, groundwater and other dangerous debris left by US airmen, sailors and soldiers who have tested new weapons and carried out bombardments in the region during the war.
In Westhampton, the Army Corps of Engineers scours nearly 4,300 acres of private and public land, looking for forests and brush for contaminants left mainly by airmen who used a local airport as a training ground. between 1943 and 1944.
The trainees used .50 caliber machine guns, training bombs and rockets, as well as high explosives weighing up to 500 pounds, according to an Army Corps fact sheet. Aerial surveys of lands near Westhampton conducted by the Army Corps have shown silhouettes of tanks, a bridge, a destroyer and an aircraft carrier that were used as targets in training during the war near Suffolk County Air Force Base – now the Francis S. Gabreski Airport. The site was used as a marksmanship training center during the war and is now a civil-military airfield, located a few miles north of Westhampton.
A former Westhampton resident who worked at a nearby school said it was well known the area contained potentially hazardous waste and had taken care to bring bottled water for students. âEven though the water was constantly tested for contaminants, I still worried about it,â she told The Post.
Although records show the military carried out a surface clean-up of the area in 1946, it was done to the standards of the time, Julie Rupp said in a recent presentation to Southampton City Council, outlining the plan of cleaning. Rupp is leading the Corps’ project for the “environmental restoration” of formerly used defense sites or FUDS.
âOur cleanup work is prioritized using a risk management approach,â Rupp told The Post, adding that there are 10,000 such sites across the country. âThose properties that pose the highest and most imminent risk to human health, safety and the environment are dealt with first. ”
Among Westhampton’s most dangerous remains are those of a 500-pound M-64 AN bomb, she said. âPotential soil contamination would include metals and explosive components,â Rupp said, adding that the first phase of the clean-up will begin in the fall.
Years after the end of the war, the forests of Pine Barren near the airport, as well as a Bomarc surface-to-air missile training ground during the Cold War, were frequented by locals for recreational purposes.
âIt would have been nice to know when we were off-roading in those woods as kids what the dangers were,â said Aram Terchunian, coastal geologist and longtime Westhampton resident.
In addition to Westhampton, there are seven other FUDS on the eastern end of Long Island, including the Camp Hero military base and Montauk Naval Sub-base and the North Hill Fire Control Station on Fishers Island in the Strait of Long Island.