Former Bombing Range In Neighborhood

Some S.C. residents relocating

South Carolina Radio Network
June 27, 2018 - 1:26 pm
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants people living in a heavily-developed area of Richland County to know that they could be living on a former military bombing range.

The former Pontiac Bombing Range off Clemson and Hardscrabble Roads is now home to the dense Summit neighborhood, the site of thousands of homes.

“We have to inform people that their property is on a location that used to be used by the military,” said Billy Birdwell, Senior Public Affairs Specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers. “In this case, it was a bombing range during World War II called the Pontiac Bomb Range and they dropped practice bombs there.”

Birdwell said the corps sent more than 1,500 invitations to residents regarding a public informational meeting Tuesday night about the former defense facility. The corps doesn’t want homeowners to be surprised when they receive informational letters the corps plans to send out within the month.

“We can’t assume that it’s common knowledge,” Birdwell said. “Our mission given to us by Congress is to make sure people know.”

Click here for a link to a map of the area. 

“In World War II that part of Richland County was sparsely populated or unpopulated,” he said. “And so they used that as a practice bombing range for those heavy bombers that were going to be used out in Europe and the Pacific…It was extensively used. But there was some cleanup done after the war but they didn’t have the technology to get everything.”

“They dropped practice bombs,” he said. “They didn’t drop live ordinance. But even the practice bombs had a small charge in them so that when they hit the ground they could see, the small charge would go off and they could see where the bombs–if they hit the target or not.”

“The spotting charges are very small,” said Birdwell. “It’s like, maybe a shotgun shell without the pellets so that there’s some explosive in there. It’s not strong enough to kill people but it could hurt someone and so we don’t want anything to happen to anybody.”

Birdwell said the site was used by the Army Air Forces. At the time immediately after the war, there was not as much concern about the environment as there is now.

“At that time they did what they could do or what they thought was necessary,” Birdwell said. “We know that we should have done more then but that was then and this is now.”

“All we’ve ever found out there are practice rounds,” said Dena Thompson, Program Manager for Formerly Used Defense Sites, Savannah District. “We just want people to be informed.”

“We call it the three Rs,” Birdwell said. “Recognize that it doesn’t belong there. Retreat. Don’t play with it. Don’t pick it up. Don’t take it home. And then report it. We want the authorities to look at it. Let the local authorities come out and check it out. If it’s something dangerous then they know how to handle that or to get somebody who can.”

“We know that some of the munitions have been found in recent years and some have been found in recent months,” he said. “So although we believe that there’s no significant danger to anyone, we still have an obligation to let people know and to have people on the lookout for these items so that no one gets hurt.”

There are about 3,000 former used defense sites throughout the United States.

“Many of them are in the Southeast because the Southeast was used extensively in World War II because the weather’s so nice,” Birdwell said.

If you have questions or concerns, Birdwell would like to answer them for you. You can call him at 912-652-5014.

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