The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin an investigation of nearly 4,300 acres in the Westhampton area used for fighter pilot training during World War II, searching for explosive-filled munitions and conducting soil and groundwater sampling.
The work under the Army Corps’ Formerly Used Defense Sites program will be conducted in three phases, the first of which is expected to begin this year and the third expected to be completed by December 2022, according to the Army Corps. The investigation area, which includes public and private lands, is about two miles north of Westhampton Beach, west of Gabreski Airport and stretches into Speonk.
The expanse was used for fighter pilot training during World War II, said Bryan Purtell, public affairs specialist at the Army Corps’ New England District. Most of it is now open space.
"Most of the training exercises used inert practice munitions, but historical reports indicate that some live training with explosive-filled munitions did occur," he wrote in an email. "We will conduct geophysical surveys using advanced metal detectors to look for potential buried munitions within the former training area."
The state Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Environmental Remediation is overseeing the investigation under a Department of Defense cooperative agreement, according to the DEC.
When the investigation is complete a final report will offer conclusions as to whether additional remediation work is needed, according to the Army Corps.
Most of the activity on the site between 1943 and 1945 was conducted with machine guns or practice bombs and rockets.
"However, from May 1943 through January 1944, 100-lb and 500-lb high explosive (HE) bombs, incendiary bombs, and 4.5-in HE rockets were reportedly used on the numerous targets located throughout the MRS [Munitions Response Site]," according to a fact sheet on the Army Corps’ website.
The Army Corps asks anyone who comes in contact with munitions to remember the three Rs: recognize the item as potentially hazardous, retreat from the area without touching or moving the item and immediately report the items to local police by calling 911.