Expanded Weapons Testing On The Potomac River Leaves Many Waterman Concerned
U.S. Navy photo by Patrick Dunn

CALIFORNIA, Md. – Since the year 1918, the lower Potomac River has been used as a firing range by the United States Navy, a site where they test new and experimental firepower such as electromagnetic railguns and laser weapons.

The booming sounds of these weapon tests have become commonplace for the DMV residents living close to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, located in King George County, Virginia. Those especially familiar with the noise are the boaters and watermen who call the Potomac region home.

A bureaucratic notice posted in the Federal Register in December 2022 has drawn the concern of many residents, especially the watermen.

The notice requests public comment on a proposed 20-mile expansion of the middle “danger zone”.

The reason for the proposed expansion was for, “ongoing infrared sensor testing for detection of airborne chemical or biological agent simulants, directed energy testing, and for operating manned or unmanned watercraft.”

Boaters are, of course, deeply concerned and upset over this proposal. If the proposal passes, the danger zone expansion will force civilian vessels going up and down the river into shallower waters, which would put them at risk of running aground, leaving them stuck and/or damaged.

The oyster farmers are also outraged by the proposal, as the environmental impact caused by expanded weapon testing could harm the fish and shellfish business.

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Natural Resources Defense has also voiced concerns about the environmental impact of an expanded danger zone. According to them, the Navy fires around 4,700 large-caliber projectiles a year from Dahlgren. They also release chemicals such as paint stripper and gasoline additives 70 times a year to simulate chemical warfare attacks.

This has led to the Navy being accused of failing to acquire a discharge permit or a presidential exemption from the Clean Water Act in order to carry out their tests.

According to a Deputy Assistant Navy Secretary, regulators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to allow testing in Dahlgren without a discharge permit. He also stated that the test may impact the sturgeon population, but other fish would be unharmed.

Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks held a forum to discuss the impacts of a possible expansion on March 29th in Colonial Beach, Virginia.

Oyster farmers, the Maryland and Virginia watermen’s associations, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission are also requesting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hold a public hearing to discuss the impacts of a danger zone expansion.

Contact our news desk at news@thebaynet.com 

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  1. Why are they wasting resources attacking the water? It makes way more sense to make the Kremlin the new danger zone for testing.

  2. This testing is causing home damage in Colonial Beach. Plus, when we had our new home built here we were never told anything about this Navy weapons testing or we would never have settled here. That just isn’t right!

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