- js reader version
- view hidden posts
- tags and related articles
by Carl Holcombe
Monday, Nov. 27, 2006 at 6:28 PM
Another one of those articles showing that the Federal Government is one of the worst polluters in the nation. And that you can't rely on either the Federal or State governments to protect your rights or property.
Developers covet 1940s bombing ranges
In the 1940s, Army Air Corps bombers thundered across the skies of Arizona, dropping practice bombs on mock towns and giant bull's-eye targets on the desert floor during practice runs for the real thing in the European and Pacific theaters.
Nearly six decades later, the state's housing market has started turning the middle of nowhere into the middle of somewhere, particularly in fast-growing Pinal County, site of 14 former practice bombing spots.
And those practice bombs from long ago are creating a problem for housing today. Some of them, loaded with flash-and-burn black powder charges, may still be waiting to explode.
Former defense sites "used to be way out in rural parts of the county," said Ken Buchanan, assistant Pinal County manager. "Now, they're in the path of the development boom or are in the development."
Cleanup of the sites falls to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has been surveying military cleanup sites nationwide. For them, the process could take a decade or more.
Developers don't want to wait that long. But having a private contractor clean up the bomb sites is uncharted territory in Pinal County, and the county and state have been caught unprepared for this development glitch. The problem: No agency can yet declare the old bombing sites cleared. Until someone does, the county won't allow building.
Meanwhile, the old bombing debris is still out there - along with hikers, ATV riders and a few homeowners.
"I didn't know about (the bombing sites), and I lived here practically my whole life and seen a lot of desert," said longtime area historian John Swearingen of Florence, who encountered a site east of the town years ago.
The bombing ranges
Planes from Williams Field at Mesa dropped bombs across the desert from World War II until the late 1940s. The 100-pound practice bombs filled with sand and 3-pound flash-and-burn black powder charges and flares fell from the sky onto practice bombing sites. There were 107 practice or live bombing and gunnery sites around the state, and the Army Corps of Engineers counts 286 "Formerly Used Defense Sites" around the state, including air fields and bases, prisoner of war camps, a potential chemical-weapons site in western Arizona, and other facilities.
The Army leased the bombing sites from private landowners and in some cases from the state; it wasn't unusual for bombing sites to encompass private and state land. The sites were dozens of miles from any established communities at the time. Pinal County had a population of about 30,000 in 1940.
In 1948, with World War II over, virtually all of the practice and live bombing sites were shut down. The Army sent crews to clean up, and it later issued letters certifying the sites as clean. The bombing was basically forgotten, and the empty desert remained. Homes were occasionally built or trailers rolled in.
In 1986, a new issue arose: Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to examine closed military sites nationwide to determine if cleanup issues remained.
And despite those old letters from the Army, new surveys determined the cleanup at the practice bombing ranges hadn't been good enough or documented well enough. The new sites weren't clean based on modern standards.
Those same sites are now at the edge of one of the country's fastest growing areas.
What's out there
Decades-old federal records, incomplete or poorly documented cleanups and old tales of graduating cadets being allowed to drop real bombs have left unanswered questions about exactly what, if any, munitions may still be sitting out there. Pinal County officials, developers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality are locked in a four-way dance over who cleans up these former bombing sites, who certifies them as clean and who is responsible if something goes wrong.
The Army Corps says that first an investigation of what may have been left behind must be conducted. Then must come the cleanups, which are expected to cost millions of dollars each.The Army Corps is completing evaluations for sites northwest of Casa Grande, northwest of Florence and a site west of the Arizona 84 and 347 interchange west of Casa Grande, said Larry Sievers, an Army Corps cleanup project coordinator.
There are 33 former defense sites in Pinal County, and based on rough estimates for 22 of them, the Corps says it could cost million just to clean up the debris left over from the practice runs.
The investigation process includes sweeping the site with metal detectors and mapping where scrap or undetonated practice bombs, flares or other items are located.
A cleanup is under way at a site off of the Florence-Kelvin Highway between Florence and Kearny near the Boulders, an outdoors area popular with rock climbers.
Meanwhile, ATV and horse riders, hikers and others continue to use the land not knowing about possible World War II leftovers. Some individual homes already have been built within the boundaries of a couple of the sites, without the homeowners knowing of the bombing ranges.
If an unexploded practice bomb was found, its explosion could cause a flash with a radius of as much as 9 feet, which could burn and injure someone and could be especially dangerous to children.
Army Corps personnel say risks are low. They have never found unexploded real bombs, they said.
"There is a high degree of confidence there are no high explosives" left over in Pinal County, Sievers said. "But you can never be certain until an inspection is done."
Northwest of Florence, one developer isn't interested in waiting what could be another decade for the Army Corps to get around to cleaning things up.
Carabello East LLC wants to build about 2,000 houses on 1 square mile inside an old practice bombing site northwest of Florence.
The nearest developments, such as Magma Ranch, are a few miles away.
Carabello has offered to handle the cleanup on its site as well as about 250 acres of the bombing land that crosses into state trust land, said Gary Jones, a land entitlement consultant for Carabello's parent company, SunAmerican Caballero.
The company did not find out about the required cleanup until after the land was bought, as it believed a 60-year-old federal letter saying the site had been cleaned up was still relevant, Jones said.
Land development attorney Jordan Rose, who is working for the company, said private developers have taken on cleanup projects of practice bombing sites in other states.
"It goes much faster," Rose said. "They can get it cleaned up in two or three years, as opposed to 20 years."
But the project is locked in a stalemate.
The developer says it can't secure financing for the cleanup until it can prove it has approval to build. The county won't approve development plans until it gets proof the area has been cleaned up.
"Should something happen after the houses are built, the only deep pockets left would be the county's," Hardy said.
"I don't think they would be liable, but if it isn't cleaned up properly, I think the county could be sued one day."
So one project remains on hold. The future of several parcels in the path of new development is in limbo. And for some residents, the news of possible explosives comes as a surprise.
Jose Vidana's family moved into a home northwest of Casa Grande about four months ago. He goes on almost daily ATV rides with his teenage sons across the land nearby. He says no one told him when they moved in that the area was inside a former test-bombing site.
"I'm probably going to think about it a lot now," Vidana said. "We'll pay more attention now."
Report this post as:
LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 3 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center Presents Night for Hope
Marshall Tuck’s racist dog whistle
Marshall Tuck’s ethnocentrism contradicts Californian values
Debunking Some Anti-Prop 10 Propaganda
Why Should California Choose De Leon Over Feinstein?
Change Links September 2018 posted
More Scandals Rock Southern California Nuke Plant San Onofre
Site Outage Friday
Change Links August 2018
Setback for Developer of SC Farm Land
More problems at Shutdown San Onofre Nuke
Change Links 2018 July posted
More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena
"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena
Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles
Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert!
Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California
Change Links June 2018 posted
The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years
Unity Archive Project
More Local News...
Allo, quelqu'un ? Allo, quelqu'une ?
deral Government Officials are not allowed to take leaflets nor pick up items in privste
Communist Mouthwash Hides Nature of Nations Suffering in Comm Pyramids Ploys
Atlanta: metro Pillage, Poison Gas, Pricks
Atlanta Metro Suffers Under Pillage, Shame lso Political Poison Gases
Fed Says College Students Have More Debt than Previous Generations
Paraphysique de l'insurrection et de l'émeute
Corruption of USA government
"We live in a time of radical counter-enlightenment"
Did Woolsey Fire Cause Radioactive Fallout?
G20 Discusses Preventing Financial Crisis and Small Island Economies
Driver near Campbell San Jose researches Bus Traffic from Northern Mexico
The Death of Small Businesses in Big Cities, Explained
Felons Shw Ninjasred Heavy Truck Tyres
Paraphysique de la consommation/pollution
Paraphysique de l'effet spectateur
Condominium, terrorisme du capital
Debt and Tax Policies Needed to Prevent Crisis Says Finance Watchdog Group
Independent Media Crackdown and Global Social Movements
Abécédaire du fascisme restreint et général
“Animaniacs in Concert!” Starring Voice Legend Rob Paulsen Heads to Portland, Oregon
Socialism in American English
Noske, noskisme réactualisé
Oprah Please Stop Selling Dead Animal Pieces
Down In Smoke SF
Paraphysique du scientisme
USDA Withholds Names Of Turkey Companies Spreading Salmonella
More Breaking News...