WASHINGTON – Sunbathers perched atop military firing targets in the Chesapeake Bay have prompted the Navy to push for tougher restrictions at the firing range, Pentagon officials said.
The Hannibal Target area, 600 feet in radius off the St. Mary’s County shoreline between Cedar Point and Point Lookout State Park, has been used since World War II by the Patuxent River Naval Air Warfare Center for testing with non-explosive bombs.
But trespassers have used the target – a buoy shaped like a billboard on its side and raised to a 30-degree angle – for climbing and sunbathing, said Steve Elinsky, a biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Navy wants the site expanded to 1,000 feet in radius and made available for military use 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It currently cannot be used on Sundays and holidays.
The Navy also wants to redesignate the target area for use by ships in addition to planes, said John Romer, spokesman for the Patuxent River Naval Air Warfare Center.
The tests show whether weapons, when discharged, separate cleanly from the aircraft, he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers said the proposed changes “to this danger zone would have practically no impact on the public (and) no anticipated navigational hazard or interference with existing waterway traffic.”
The agency said the testing area is off limits during daylight hours except to vessels with Navy authorization.
Romer said the Navy also uses radar surveillance to ensure that no one is in the area during testing. He said signs on the target tell unauthorized personnel to stay away.
The proposed restrictions will not affect Hooper Target, a partially submerged World War II-era troop transport ship north of Hannibal Target that is also used for Navy weapons testing.