UXOs left behind from Second World War training exercises could still pose a risk
Ian Lau, project director with the Department of National Defence Legacy Sites Program, was in Debert on Tuesday to warn of potential hazards from unexploded explosive ordnance left over from the Second World War military training exercises. HARRY SULLIVAN TRURO DAILY NEWS
DEBERT - Potential safety hazards exist at former Camp Debert because of unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) buried in the ground since the Second World War, officials say.
"Because of its history of being a military camp and military activities and the training that went on, there is the possibility that throughout what was going on, that munitions or ammunition, UXOs could be left behind," said Ian Lau, project director with Department of National Defence (DND) Legacy Sites Program.
"We're not trying to be alarmists," he said, during the first of two information sessions held Tuesday on the former military base.
"It's not a significant issue but it's just something that we want the public to be aware of, to understand that there is a risk."
The Legacy Sites Program was initiated in 2005 to clean up UXOs on former military bases.
About 2,500 UXOs have been discovered around the former Debert base in the past year by a company hired by DND to search them out. Other isolated finds have also been reported in past years.
"The possibility of a hazard exists," Lau said.
A variety of different types of munitions and ordnance were used during military training around the base, including smoke grenades, practice bombs dropped from airplanes, mortars, pyrotechnic devices and "flame floats," which were used in the water as position markers that were dropped into the ocean.
Back in the day, Lau said, much of the unexploded ordnance was buried by soldiers as a way to dispose of it.
The flame floats, which are detonated when exposed to water, are the most common UXOs recovered over the past year, he said.
The UXOs were fired from weapons, dropped from the air or otherwise projected but did not explode as they were supposed to upon contact.
"When it arrives at its target, we expect the bang. But if for some reason it doesn't, it just remains there," Lau said.
There have been cases in past years where people have been killed or injured in several other parts of the country from UXOs.
The risk of finding a UXO around the base is "extremely low," Lau said, but there is a possibility they do exist, either below the ground surface or above, where the soil has been eroded by ATV travel or some other disturbance.
The greatest potential for remaining UXOs are among the general recreational ATV trail areas, the Mi'kmewey Interpretative Trail site and the undeveloped lands such as the wild blueberry picking and hunting areas that extend out from the former base towards and slightly beyond Highway 104.
There is little risk of finding any UXOs in residential or already developed areas around the former base, Lau said.
UXOs are not souvenirs and should never be disturbed by anyone not trained to handle them. Anyone who comes across something they believe to be a UXO should immediately leave the area the same way they came from and call the police or 911.
"If you didn't drop it, don't pick it up," warned Eric Labine, a DND explosive safety officer. "A UXO is always dangerous. It should never be moved."
Aug 9, 1940, the 6th Field Company Canadian Engineers arrived in Debert to begin clearing forestland and laying out what would become the Debert Military Camp.
Throughout the war, 6,000 civilians and thousands more military members and engineers were involved in building the camp.
Throughout the war, all five divisions of the First Canadian Army, comprising of some 300,000 troops, received live-fire training in Debert prior to being shipped overseas.
Following the war, Camp Debert was used in the repatriation of troops returning from Europe before undergoing significant downsizing with the majority of training and marshalling areas being decommissioned. In 1948.
Camp Debert was reactivated and hosted several active army units during the 1950s, but was shut down as a training facility with the opening of Camp Gagetown in New Brunswick.
During the early 1960s, it was selected as the location for a regional emergency government headquarters that became known as a Diefenbunker.
Today, much of the former base is taken up with private residences while a portion is also used as the Debert Air Industrial Park.
A functioning airport and cadet training headquarters also remain active.