Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot

Published Feb. 23, 2018

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold its 2015 FNOD quarterly restoration advisory board meeting March 25, 6-8 p.m., at the Courtyard Marriott, located at 8060 Harbour View Boulevard, Suffolk, Virginia.
SLIDESHOW | 7 images | Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot Aerial Photo
Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot is in Suffolk, Virginia, at the end of State Route 135 off Interstate 664. The site is on the James River at the mouth of the Nansemond River, six miles across Hampton Roads from Newport News and about 11 miles west of Norfolk.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District manages the formerly-used defense site project at Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot. Project support is also provided by Huntsville District, USACE's Center for Expertise on ordnance-related issues, and Norfolk District for other related efforts.

The original ordnance depot covered about 975 acres. This area has subsequently been divided and ownership has changed, and it is currently occupied by Tidewater Community College, General Electric, Virginia Department of Transportation, and Hampton Roads Sanitation District. Dominion Land owns the property to the southwest, part of which intersects FNOD boundaries. Interstate 664 was constructed in the early 1990s and crosses the eastern part of TCC holdings.

In 1987, Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot became a matter of public concern when a piece of crystalline TNT was found at Tidewater Community College's former Portsmouth campus. This initiated extensive historical research, investigations, testing and removal actions. As a result of these findings, the Environmental Protection Agency placed this site on its National Priorities List in 1999. (Read about the Superfund cleanup process here)

The 1999 NPL listing identified six source areas:

1. James River Beachfront Area 
This area was used as a general disposal site during the World War II era. The waste disposed of at the JRB was mainly debris waste, including metal and construction and building debris. Large (greater than 5 feet in diameter) chunks of molten metal were also observed along the eroded bank of the JRB. This area is located on the James River in a portion of the FNOD currently owned by the TCC. This area is now protected by a revetment, which was constructed after the removal activities. Ordnance scrap discoveries included bomb fins, 170-mm projectile shells and a cannonball (none of which were live). A human health and ecological risk assessment of the site is planned to evaluate soils left in place beneath the revetment as well as soils at the bluff and to satisfy CERCLA requirements.

2. TNT Removal Area 
This area is approximately two to three acres in size and is located along the north side of College Drive on the TCC campus. The site was used as a
disposal and maintenance area for ordnance related waste, bulk explosives, propellants, small arms ammunition, and scrap metal during the period of 1917 to about 1950. Bulk explosives were removed along with contaminated soil. Some explosive contamination remains in site soils and groundwater. Ordnance clearance continues into 2003. Data collected from the next sampling event will be used along with appropriate historical data to delineate both groundwater and soil contamination. Crystalline TNT located during the ongoing magnetic anomaly investigation will be removed.

3. Main Burning Ground (MBG) 
This Area of Concern (AOC) is located on the GE property. Previous uses of the site include the burning and cleaning of ordnance during and after WWI and WWII. Currently, the site area is mostly wooded except for former railroad paths and periodic openings in the tree canopy. Contaminants of concern appear to include both organics and inorganics. There are also unexploded ordnance (UXO) issues associated with the site. A removal action for the ordnance was begun in early 2000. A special issue, which impacts this area, is the presence of both ordnance and HTRW.

4. Horseshoe Pond
Horseshoe Pond is located on the Dominion Lands property, south of the GE plant and west of the Impregnation Kit AOC, and is approximately 1.2 acres in size. The site was previously used as a disposal and burning area for solid waste and ordnance. Because the site is mostly wetlands and in the Chesapeake Bay resource protection area, it is unlikely to be developed. Contaminants of concern appear to include both organics and inorganics. There may also be UXO issues with the site.

5. Impregnation Kit Area (IKA) 
IKA is approximately 300 feet in diameter and is located to the south of the GE plant on the Dominion Lands Inc. property. The site was used as a disposal area for WWI impregnation kits and other debris. A final close out report has been completed. The area is intended to be closed out with a No 
Further Action Proposed Plan and Record of Decision.

6. Track K Dump (Tire Pile) 
The Tire Pile is located on the TCC campus. The site contains abandoned automobile/truck tires and may have been used as a solid waste dump. A 
removal action was completed and confirmatory sampling was performed in 2002. A No Further Action Proposed Plan and Record of Decision are planned, provided the Site Screen Planning shows no further site investigation is necessary.  

Site screening areas include:
1. The Nansemond River Beach Front 
2. Streeter Creek/Lakeview Drive Ground Scars 
3. Near and Off-shore Areas 
4. GE Pond/Nansemond culvert 
5. Tidewater Community College Lake and J-Area lake 
6. Marine Corps Power Generation Building 
7. Area J Lake and Possible Burning Ground Area 
8. Abandoned Wastewater Treatment Plant 
9. Tract A & B burning ground 
10. Track A – Explosive Magazine Line & Eastern Disposal Area/Pit 
11. Tract G – Explosive Magazine Line ground scars and mounding 
12. Tract H & I – Explosive Magazine Line ground scars and mounding 
13. Tract J – Explosive Magazine Line ground scars and mounding 
14. Tract K – Explosive Magazine Line ground scars and mounding 
15. Tract K – Explosive Magazine Line landfill 
16. PCB transformer removal 
17. Steam Heating Plant removal 
18. Photo lab basement 
19. Suspected Underground Storage Tanks 
20. Officer’s Pool Chlorine Containers



FNOD consisted of approximately 975 acres, and was acquired by the Department of the Army between 1917 and 1928 by various deeds, easements, permits, and Declarations of Takings. The site has been associated primarily as an Army ammunition depot.

The Nansemond Ordnance Depot originated as Pig Point Ordnance Depot and played an important role in the storage and shipment of various types of munitions during both World War I and World War II. 

The Depot was constructed and commissioned the Pig Point Ordnance Depot between November 1917 and December 1918. Constructed in support of the Port of Embarkation in Newport News, the depot functioned as a temporary munitions storage and overseas shipment facility. Between November 1917 and July 1918, a limited number of ammunition storage facilities and a few barracks for a small component of guards were constructed at the Depot. The end of this construction period was marked by the completion of a 4,800-ft pier built to handle overseas shipments.

Between July 1918 and December 1918, construction increased at a rapid pace so that by November 1918, the Constructing Quartermaster had completed the Depot at a cost of about $3.5 million. At the signing of the Armistice, the Depot was able to handle 1,300 tons of ammunition daily.

In March 1919, all enlisted men were to be discharged and replaced by civilians, who were to conduct Depot operations under the direction of a small cadre of officers. However, just prior to the discharge of the enlisted personnel, transports began to arrive from overseas with very large quantities of ammunition to be placed in storage at the Depot. The mission of Pig Point changed in 1919 to add distribution and processing of captured enemy munitions. The Depot received ammunition from overseas, prepared ammunition for storage, transferred ammunition to other locations, and performed other salvage and disposal operations.

Between World War I and World War II, these operations continued on both domestic and captured munitions. In 1929, the name was officially changed to the Nansemond Ordnance Depot. Principal operations included preparation of ammunition and components for permanent storage, painting and marking shells and containers, segregation of certain lots of ammunition, transference of powder charges from fiber to metal containers, salvage of munitions parts, and inspection and disposal of unserviceable ammunition by defusing or burning. Smokeless powder was burned on site as part of demilitarization activities, and ammunition was broken down, with the metal separated out and salvaged. During this period, barges were used to dump unserviceable ammunition at sea.

During the 1920s and 1930s, improvements to the Depot were completed, such as the construction of guard towers and steel water tanks, construction of concrete bomb-proof storage facilities, the building of a renovation and salvage plant, maintenance and the laying of additional railroad track, and the grading of additional roads to and within the Depot. Near the onset of World War II, major renovation projects and new construction commenced, including the demolition of the old pier and the beginnings of construction for a new pier, construction of jetties, hard surfacing of roads, clearance of firebreaks around magazines, and the extension of the railroad to the pier location.

During World War II, while under the jurisdiction of the Ordnance Department, the Depot was instrumental in supporting operations at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. This support included temporary storage and transshipment of all types of ammunition overseas. Toward the end of the war, the mission of the Depot was changed to function as an intermediate and distribution depot and to perform reconditioning of ammunition. It also received captured enemy munitions for processing and further shipment to U.S. military facilities, such as Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, for technical examination.