Glad you asked: Dog Beach was a land­fill

Daily Press - - Local News - By Lisa Ver­non Sparks Staff writer Lisa Ver­non Sparks, 757-247-4832, lver­non­sparks@dai­ly­press.com.

HAMP­TON — Hamp­ton na­tive Laura Bell says the beach area on the north­west end of Fort Mon­roe, dubbed “Dog Beach,” was a sub­lime lo­cale per­fect for a men­tal get­away.

Though it was on a re­stricted mil­i­tary post, Bell says the beach over­look­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay was a fre­quent haunt for many dur­ing her youth and through her col­lege days and be­yond, she said.

“I’ve walked on that beach for­ever,” said the now 61-year-old Bell. “That’s where I went to clear my head. The sound of the waves was hyp­notic and it was a great view.”

And some­times Bell even brought her mom’s golden re­triever, Max. “It was his fa­vorite trip in the whole world,” she said.

But that sec­tion of beach, on the now for­mer mil­i­tary post, is ac­tu­ally a for­mer land­fill — a near 50-acre swath now sub­ject to fed­eral re­me­di­a­tion and cleanup, said Terry E. Brown, su­per­in­ten­dent for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice at Fort Mon­roe.

“I’m not sure when it got its name. Lo­cals would use this area to walk and play with their dogs,” Brown said. “Due to the en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup, the area is now closed to the pub­lic un­til fur­ther no­tice.”

With rem­nants of its past life buried be­neath — in­clud­ing in­cin­er­a­tor ash — the area was closed af­ter the Army’s de­par­ture in 2011, much to Bell’s sur­prise.

“I drove over one day and (saw) they built an en­tire new gate and they shut down the road,” Bell said. “I don’t know why they ac­tu­ally closed this beach when it was open for­ever.”

Bell queried the “Glad You Asked” fea­ture in the Daily Press to learn what­ever hap­pened to Dog Beach at Fort Mon­roe, why was it closed and will it ever be re­opened to the pub­lic?

Turns out, the se­cluded beach once pop­u­lar with lo­cals and ca­nines alike has a trashy his­tory.

Back in the mid-1930s, the area was a land­fill, Brown said. It was open un­til at least the mid-1960s, or longer, but it’s un­clear who op­er­ated it.

Dur­ing that time, un­known amounts of mu­nic­i­pal waste, trash, con­struc­tion or de­mo­li­tion de­bris and in­cin­er­a­tor ash had been dumped there, Brown wrote in an email.

In 2011, when Fort Mon­roe re­ceived its na­tional mon­u­ment des­ig­na­tion and opened to the gen­eral pub­lic, the agree­ment pro­vided that the Army con­tinue to man­age the lands within the park’s bound­ary un­til the trans­fer to the U.S. sec­re­tary of the in­te­rior was com­pleted.

But the Dog Beach area was closed off with a fence and haz­ard signs warn­ing of mu­ni­tions and other con­tam­i­na­tion, Fort Mon­roe Au­thor­ity spokes­woman Phyl­lis Ter­rell said.

The north beach area, a com­po­nent of the com­pre­hen­sive plan for the park’s Cap­tain John Smith Ch­e­sa­peake Na­tional His­toric Trail, is slated for trans­fer to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, but not un­til it’s cleaned up, Brown said.

“This area re­in­forces the his­toric vis­ual and nat­u­ral char­ac­ter of the Penin­sula,” Brown said. “The north beach area, ad­ja­cent to Mill Creek, is an indige­nous cul­tural land­scape.”

There are three con­tam­i­nated sites lo­cated in the north beach area un­der­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup by the Army un­der the Com­pre­hen­sive En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­sponse, Com­pen­sa­tion and Li­a­bil­ity Act, Brown told the Daily Press.

It’s the same ter­mi­nol­ogy used by the U.S. De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion to de­scribe a Su­per­fund site. The pro­gram pro­vides for a fed­eral Su­per­fund to clean up un­con­trolled or aban­doned haz­ardous waste sites. The des­ig­na­tion in­cludes sites con­tam­i­nated from ac­ci­dents, spills and other emer­gency re­leases of pol­lu­tants.

The cost to clean up Dog Beach land­fill in 2015 was pegged at $8.9 mil­lion, with com­ple­tion ex­pected by the end of 2020, ac­cord­ing to a ProPublica study.

Two ad­di­tional sites in the same north beach area on Fort Mon­roe re­quire re­me­di­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to meet­ing doc­u­ments from the Fort Mon­roe Restora­tion Ad­vi­sory Board.

They in­clude the for­mer skeet range, east of Fen­wick Road, and the sal­vage ware­house, west of Fen­wick Road.

Brown said the Army is fi­nal­iz­ing its re­me­dial in­ves­ti­ga­tion and is plan­ning to do a fea­si­bil­ity study. As for when the beach will re­open, that de­pends when the cleanup is com­plete, he said.

“We are mov­ing slowly, but we are get­ting there,” Brown said.

JONATHON GRUENKE/STAFF

The beach near Fort Mon­roe, re­ferred to as Dog Beach, has been closed to the pub­lic since 2011 as it un­der­goes en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup.

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