If you’re looking for weapons of destruction, try a few back yards in Butner.
In its latest round of sweeps, a U.S. Corps of Army Engineers’ contractor has uncovered at least four unexploded ordnances near several residences along Uzzle Road, which was once part of the Camp Butner military reservation. (See “Blasts from the past,” Feb. 26, 2003, and “Corps yanks documents off the Web,” March 12, 2003.)
Over the past several weeks, contractors combing the 126-acre site have found a 105 mm projectile, a 37 mm shell, an 81 mm mortar and a 155 mm artillery round. The ammunition was used in artillery training during World War II; these types are also being used in the Iraq War.
Buried in shallow ground, these live rounds can be disturbed by roto-tilling or excavation, such as for a septic tank. And they are extremely dangerous. Corps spokeswoman Penny Schmitt says that when contractors uncovered the 155 mm round, they dug a pit, covered it with plywood and piled sandbags on top. “They detonated it and the sandbags went up 120 feet in the air.”
As Butner has grown, more homes are being built on the old training grounds. Over the years, property owners selling their land ignored deed restrictions prohibiting digging and developing. Granville County Manager Brian Alligood says zoning permits and subdivision plats issued for the former training grounds require an ordnance disclosure. However, Alligood said these caveats aren’t tied to the deed, and most disclosure laws fall under state jurisdiction.
Moreover, Schmitt says the Corps can’t access all the impacted properties. “There are still people living in the area reluctant to grant us right of entry to clean up their property.”
No one has been hurt in Butner from the munitions, although Schmitt says “one homeowner picked them up from the field and was using them as ornaments around a fireplace.”