SEATTLE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just finished a massive, multi-million dollar cleanup operation of discarded World War II-era munitions underneath Pier 91, the high traffic cruise ship terminal in Seattle.
Specially trained divers from across the country found 11 discarded military munitions (DMM) and more than 200 other military munitions-related items. DMM is described as unfired military munitions, still capable of functioning, that were most likely dropped overboard or inappropriately discarded in the water.
There is a low risk of the DMM exploding.
“We are confident that the removal action conducted at Terminal 91 resulted in greatly reducing the potential safety risk from remaining military munitions,” said Col. Anthony O. Wright, Seattle District Corps of Engineers commander. “However, there are currently no technologies available that are 100 percent effective in detecting all military munitions.”
The KING 5 Investigators broke the story last October, that Port of Seattle divers doing routine underwater security sweeps had come upon old WWII-era ammo last spring and summer. The findings prompted a multi-agency response which began in January to survey the area to see what else could be below. Remotely operated vehicles accomplished much of the work. In addition, 550 dives were completed.
The old ammunition was at the bottom of Puget Sound because the area was used as a military supply depot from World War II to 1971. After the discovery last year, the Pentagon deemed the area a Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS). The FUDS determination made federal dollars available for a remediation.
Now that this first phase of the work is complete, the U.S. Coast Guard has given the green light for the Port of Seattle to begin the cruise season on schedule. The first boat comes into Pier 91 on May 7. All of the federal agencies involved as well as the Port of Seattle are confident the area is safe for cruise ship activity, although extra precautions will be in place.
“The U.S. Coast Guard agrees that the risk to ships using Terminal 91, now that we have a much better understanding of what is below the surface, has been minimized,” said Capt. Scott Ferguson, Coast Guard commander of Sector Puget Sound. “Regardless, to add a further safety factor, we will keep appropriate operational controls in place for ships using these facilities as the longer term Formerly Used Defense Site project continues.”
The next step is to formulate a long term plan to clean up what may still be underwater. There is a layer of hard sediment that may contain additional ammunition. The Pentagon will determine when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will draft and execute that plan.