Glad you asked: Dog Beach was a landfill
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.
The beach near Fort Monroe, referred to as Dog Beach, has been closed to the public since 2011 as it undergoes environmental cleanup.