“The house is rocking.”
The vibrations Pete Shearer feels are coming from the heavy machinery that’s tearing up the beach in front of his family’s Surf City, N.J. home.
The backhoes, dump trucks and bulldozers are all part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ latest attempt to rid a 1.5 mile stretch of sand in Surf City and neighboring Ship Bottom of unexploded munitions.
“We hope this time, they get it right. They get all the munitions,” Shearer told NBC 10 News Tuesday.
Crews have unearthed about 20 of the World War-I era fuses and other devices since the $13.6 million project began January 26.
The munitions were inadvertently pumped ashore during a beach replenishment project in 2007. In the two years that followed, more than 1,200 have turned up.
This search is far more thorough than what’s been done before, officials said. Previously, the sand was only screened to a depth of three feet. This time they’re going down as far as 12 feet.
“We moved forward with a plan that sifts every bit of the beach fill that we placed out there,” said Keith Watson, the Army Corps’ project manager, during a Tuesday news conference.
Before they’re taken off Long Beach Island for disposal, some of the devices are being temporarily stored in a sandbag bunker at the Surf City and Ship Bottom public works yard, authorities said. The facility is situated between a public library and an elementary school.
The Army Corps said Tuesday the stored munitions pose no danger to the public and even in the highly unlikely chance of an explosion; the force of such a blast would not reach either building.
“We had not been notified that the... fuses were being stored on the Borough of Surf City maintenance property,” Ocean County Library Director Elaine McConnell said.
“That information was brought to our attention today and we discussed the situation with the borough and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the beach remediation. Both the Borough and the Corps have assured us that the public is not in danger," said McConnell.
"The library will remain in contact with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine if there is any impact upon the neighborhood or library services,” McConnell said.
However, Bob Garguiolo, superintendent of the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District, said he still had safety concerns. He did not previously know about the bunker’s proximity to the school and planned to speak with project officials, he added.
Marilyn Maher, who lives in North Beach Haven, echoed Garguiolo's concerns.
“I don’t think that’s right. The public was unaware of that and they did it without anyone knowing,” she said.
But Beverly Weimar of Ship Bottom said she’s not worried.
“I don’t think they’ll explode -- they’re old and they’re rusted. I just really don’t think there’s much of a danger,” said Weimar.
The beaches will be closed to the public as work crews continue to sift the sand. They can’t guarantee, though, that the beach will ever be 100 percent free of munitions.
“We’re going to get it all -- all that we can,” said Watson, the project manager.
“There’s no point that we can say we got every possible munition. We can clear the beaches, reduce the hazard to a minimal amount,” he said.
Officials plan to have the project completed by May 22 -- just in time for summer.