Wed, Feb

Sifter to Speed Ordnance Depot Cleanup

Workers have a new machine to help clean up a former munitions site in northern Suffolk.

SUFFOLK, Virginia — Workers have a new machine to help clean up a former munitions site in northern Suffolk.

It's called a mechanical sifter, and it does just what it says. It's about to start sifting through five acres to search for explosives in the Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot, where the military processed and dumped ammunition and artillery from 1918 to 1960.

The sifter will work in a wooded area about 300 feet from Welner Drive, not far from the General Electric building, Cliff Walden said. He's a supervisor with Zapata Engineering, one of the contractors cleaning the site.

"It works like a child's sand sifter, except it has an engine," Walden said. "You put earth in the top of it and sift it."

Larger clumps of dirt, which might consist of leftover explosives from the depot, will drop out of the side and move down a conveyor belt toward a manual sifting table for further inspection.

Explosives that are no longer fused will be stored for up to a week before workers detonate them with an underground explosion, Warden said. More dangerous items will be blown up immediately.

For safety, workers will mark off a 1,700-foot perimeter around the equipment. The Army Corps of Engineers, overseeing the cleanup, installed steel armor on the machine to protect workers from unplanned explosions.

The noise level of the sifter should be no more than that of other types of construction equipment, such as excavators and backhoes, Walden said.

The sound of explosions is somewhat frequent at the depot site.

Last year, the corps removed 242 discarded military munitions from the site, including explosive material.

Planned explosions are often conducted about 3 p.m. Thursdays. Walden said occupants of nearby buildings would be notified.

The corps has checked 73 acres of the 78-acre site where the sifter will work, which is only part of the 975-acre former depot.

The sifter should quicken the pace of the rest of the cleanup, Walden said.

The depot is on the government's list of Superfund sites. The corps has budgeted about $3 million for environmental investigations at the former depot this year. The first cleanup work began in 1987. Contractors have been working on the 78-acre site for more than four years.

Today, the former depot is home to several buildings, including a Tidewater Community College campus.

Before the $200,000 sifter was brought to Virginia, the corps used it to clear a former munitions site at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo.

Walden said that he wanted to use the sifter sooner but that the weather hadn't cooperated. The sifter doesn't work well on wet soil.

"We're going to wait until we have several weeks of dry weather to finish getting the sifter ready," he said.

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