Military Training:

Unexploded Ordnance Found in Lake Michigan

NSIAD-92-95: Published: Mar 31, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 8, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed two incidents concerning ordnance recently found on the shores of Lake Michigan, focusing on: (1) whether mariners were made aware of potential unexploded ordnance hazards; and (2) the adequacy of the responses to the ordnance findings.

GAO found that: (1) in April 1991, military officials identified a fully armed air-to-air AIM-98 Sidewinder Missile on the shoreline of Lake Michigan and on June 1991, an unarmed aircraft rocket was retrieved from the lake; (2) at least 279 AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles were fired in a Department of Defense (DOD) firing range over Lake Michigan between September 1965 and October 1970, but records on those firings do not indicate the number of armed missiles that exploded in the air or the number that fell into the water unexploded; (3) since 1970, the range has been used primarily for air-to-air gunnery exercises using bullets fired at towed targets; (4) the location of the range is shown on aviation charts but not on nautical charts; (5) although mariners can receive information on upcoming military exercises, no information is available on ordnance, unexploded or otherwise, which may exist in Lake Michigan; (6) the Coast Pilot manual does not provide instructions on what actions mariners should take if they find unexploded ordnance; (7) an unexploded AIM-9B Sidewinder missile still poses a hazard after being submerged in water because the explosive material in the warhead was designed for underwater applications and does not dissolve in water; (8) DOD operates explosive ordnance disposal units in each branch of the military service around the country to respond to and retrieve ordnance when it is found; and (9) local police, Coast Guard, and Army units demonstrated the adequacy of ordnance disposal procedures when they responded within minutes of notification to safeguard and dispose of the live Sidewinder and the unarmed rocket.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Nautical charts will be updated to show uncharted ranges in the Great Lakes, in addition to Range 6903. The pollution reports will be modified to address findings of unexploded ordnance.

    Recommendation: To enhance public safety in and around Lake Michigan, the Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Commandant of the Coast Guard should update applicable nautical charts for Lake Michigan to identify range 6903, caution mariners on the possible existence of ordnance, and prescribe procedures mariners should follow if they find ordnance. Those changes should also be made to the U.S. Coast Pilot manual.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Charts cautioning mariners, and prescribing procedures is the responsibility of NOAA. The Coast Guard defers action to NOAA but will publish any updated information, received weekly from NOAA, in its "Local Notice to Mariners" publication.

    Recommendation: To enhance public safety in and around Lake Michigan, the Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Commandant of the Coast Guard should update applicable nautical charts for Lake Michigan to identify range 6903, caution mariners on the possible existence of ordnance, and prescribe procedures mariners should follow if they find ordnance. Those changes should also be made to the U.S. Coast Pilot manual.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: United States Coast Guard

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard will publish the information in its weekly "Local Notice to Mariners". The Coast Guard further recommended that agencies with cognizance over the ranges in the Great Lakes publish a brochure on the ordnance dangers.

    Recommendation: To enhance public safety in and around Lake Michigan, the Administrator, NOAA, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard should, until new nautical charts are published, use the weekly "Local Notice to Mariners" bulletin to provide information to the public on possible ordnance dangers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: United States Coast Guard

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Notices of possible ordnance dangers will be published in DOD and U.S. Coast Guard notices to mariners, and in the weekly U.S. Coast Pilot 6 publication until new nautical charts are issued.

    Recommendation: To enhance public safety in and around Lake Michigan, the Administrator, NOAA, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard should, until new nautical charts are published, use the weekly "Local Notice to Mariners" bulletin to provide information to the public on possible ordnance dangers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

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