Dredge and go ‘boom!’ Pol warns city is ignoring sunken bomb threat

By Lesley Grimm

A team of Navy experts is investigating claims that there may be tons of live ammunition at the bottom of Gravesend Bay. The bombshell allegations were recently levied by Assemblymember Bill Colton. Colton is vehemently opposed to plans for a new trash shipping facility in Gravesend. The city wants to dredge the bay, but Colton fears those plans could blow up, quite literally. In 1954 a barge of ammunitions capsized in the bay, scattering the ammo along the bottom of the sea floor. About 15,000 anti-aircraft shells went overboard—and maybe more. “They were also unloading rockets and bombs. Some of these bombs were 500-pound bombs,” Colton charged, after interviewing a crewman from the USS Bennington. “I don’t want to find out what happens when you scoop that up and slam into onto a barge.” Last month Colton joined with Rep. Vito Fossella and called on the Department of Defense to “conduct a thorough and comprehensive inspection of Gravesend Bay.” The Navy has just responded to the lawmakers’ request. This week Colton and Fossella received a letter from Assistant Secretary of the Navy BJ Penn. The Assistant Secretary said he had assembled a naval historian, explosive ordinance experts and Army Corps of Engineers experts “who are actively collecting the data needed to form a response.” Penn promised to address the lawmakers’ concerns by March 5. “This is a very serious issue and the Navy showed that they really are concerned about it,” Colton said, in response to the recent communication. In January Fossella said, “Although the federal government said it recovered the explosives soon after they were lost, modern technology would allow for a comprehensive inspection to ease the concern of Gravesend residents.” The city’s Department of Sanitation maintains the fears are unfounded. In a statement a spokes-person said, “The Depart-ment of Sanitation sees no relation between Colton’s allegations and the proposed Southwest Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station. Based on a New York Times article of January 7, 1955, the Navy located and recovered the lost shells. This was confirmed by the Navy. The site where the shells were recovered is two miles away from the Southwest Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station and does not impact this project.” A large garbage shipping center is earmarked for the site of an old incinerator at 1824 Shore Parkway. Trash from four Brooklyn community boards would be trucked to the site, loaded onto barges and then shipped away. The facility is expected to process 950 tons of garbage each day and another 718 tons of commercial waste. The City Council has already approved the plan, but it still awaits the approval of the New York State Department of Envi-ronmental Conservation. Colton has been an outspoken critic of the plan. He and other critics argue that the facility shouldn’t be constructed in a residential and recreational area. They’ve also charged that dredging the bay could stir up the layer of toxic silt that sits of the bottom of the bay, created by years of incinerator operations. Dredging is necessary to make the water deep enough to accommodate the barges that will carry the waste out of the site. State and local officials have held public hearings where residents, community groups and environmental activists have spoken out against the plans. The groups opposed to the facility are being represented by Joel Kupferman, a leading environmental lawyer. Colton reports that Kupferman recently filed a petition requesting that the federal Environmental Protection Agency designate Gravesend Bay as a hazardous “Superfund” site. Colton says the fight is far from over. “It’s just beginning,” he said. “We are prepared, if necessary, to go to court to challenge any decision that does not protect the community.”

More from Around New York