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What is Sunny Point?

Ben Steelman

A U.S. Army facility just north of Southport on the west bank of the Cape Fear River, Sunny Point — officially, the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU) — is the nation’s largest ammunition port and the U.S. military’s key ammunition shipping depot on the Atlantic Coast.

Operated by the 596th Transportation Terminal Group, the 16,000-acre facility provides worldwide shipment for U.S. Department of Defense ammunition, explosives and other dangerous cargoes. (Much of the acreage is taken up by undeveloped buffer zones and large sand berms for safety.)

Sunny Point played a major role in the Vietnam War, in the Persian Gulf War — transshipping more than 90 percent of the resupply munitions used during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm — and in the 2002 invasion of Iraq. It has close ties to Fort Bragg and handles heavy equipment and bulk supplies when elements of the 82nd Airborne Division are deployed overseas. It is the only terminal under Defense Department jurisdiction with the capacity to handle containerized ammunition. Three docks and a temporary munitions storage area are located on its property.

The Army Corps of Engineers and Transportation Corps began construction on what was originally known as the Sunny Point Army Terminal in October 1952. (Some 200 area residents had to be relocated as a result.) It became operational on Oct. 29, 1955. In 2001, it began handling some commercial cargo.

Sunny Point was briefly evacuated of all but emergency personnel on July 14, 2001, when the cargo ship Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr. caught fire while being loaded at the terminal. Two lives were lost, and emergency crews from five counties were called in to deal with the blaze, but a major explosion was averted.

Most employees at the facility are civilians. MOTSU’s payroll includes hundreds of stevadores, firefighters and security guards, providing a major boost to the local economy. Ironically, the base also helped to preserve coastal wetlands, by putting much of area within its so-called “blast zone” off limits to construction.

Sunny Point is located on the former site of Howe’s Point Plantation, which belonged to Maj. Gen. Robert Howe, the Revolutionary War commander. During the Civil War, Battery Lamb, a small Confederate river defense post, was nearby.

Until 2006, Army personnel stationed at MOTSU and their families were housed at Fort Johnston in Southport. In that year, the Army turned the property over to the City of Southport.

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