The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants residents 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 in northeast Columbia 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,” Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Billy Birdwell said. “In this case, it was a bombing range during World War II… 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 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.”
“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, and may resemble a shotgun shell without the pellets. The charge is not strong enough to kill, but could cause injuries. “All we’ve ever found out there are practice rounds,” Program Manager for Formerly Used Defense Sites Dena Thompson said. “We just want people to be informed.”
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.”
If you encounter a practice round, remember what to do.
“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.”
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.