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Army says beaches are clear

It has found all the WWI debris it can, it said. Beaches may reopen this week.

SURF CITY, N.J. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday it had found and removed all the World War I-era military munitions it could on two Long Beach Island beaches, which could reopen to the public by the end of this week.

The military dumped the material at sea decades ago, where it sat until it was sucked off the ocean floor and shot through a dredge pipe up onto the sand as part of a beach-replenishment project over the winter.

Keith Watson, project manager for the operation to sweep Surf City and Ship Bottom clean of discarded munitions, said crews had recovered 1,080 pieces of material, including fuses and other military hardware.

That is everything that could be found with special high-powered metal detectors at a depth of 3 to 4 feet below the sand, he said. In some spots, munitions were found buried as deep as 8 or 9 feet, added Ed Voigt, a spokesman for the Army Corps.

The beaches could be ready for the public as early as the end of this week or the beginning of next week, Watson said.

As an added precaution, the corps will ask local governments to prohibit digging deeper than 12 inches on the beach, and to ban the use of metal detectors this summer in those two communities.

"They [the munitions] do have explosives in them," Watson said. "If you apply the right kind of conditions to them, they could go off. It only takes one, and we don't want that."

The Army Corps will monitor the beaches throughout the summer, and plans another detailed munitions sweep in the fall.

The discovery has roiled Long Beach Island, one of New Jersey's top summer vacation destinations, where anything that scares away tourists is dreaded.

In the 1980s, it was medical waste and trash washing up from New York City along the Jersey Shore. Last year, it was a shark that bit a surfer here, which came on the heels of a smelly algae bloom that grossed out sunbathers.

Merchants have sought to capitalize on the unwanted publicity by selling T-shirts with slogans including "Our Beaches Will Blow You Away" and "I Got Bombed On Long Beach Island."

Watson said what authorities originally referred to as unexploded ordnance was actually not. "Unexploded ordnance is something that has been fired and is waiting to explode," he said. "This is not. Discarded military munitions are things that were taken out, and as the name suggested, dumped.

"They are less likely to go off, but they do contain high explosives," he said.

The munitions have been picked up and removed by an Army explosives disposal unit based at Fort Monmouth.

Many communities on Long Beach Island already have laws on the books prohibiting anyone from digging deeper than a foot below the sand, but not because of any weapons fears.

The laws followed a 2001 accident in Loveladies in which a 16-year-old boy died when sand from a deep hole he was digging collapsed on him.

Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck had considered banning youths from digging in the sand earlier this year. But he said that drastic step probably would not be necessary.

"I believe everything is in good shape now," he said.

Huelsenbeck is not angry about the munitions and strongly supports the beach-replenishment project.

"You couldn't foresee that happening," he said. "The way I see it, a lot more people could be hurt or killed by a storm if we didn't have the wider beaches than could ever be in danger from this ordnance."