Specht: What do we do with the burn chamber?

Specht

Webster Parish is at a crossroads of sorts. Camp Minden, formerly known as the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, has been the center of economic and safety controversies for quite some time. Camp Minden occupies nearly 15,000 acres, approximately the size of Lake Bistineau.

Established in 1941, the plant produced munitions for the military. Our nation was at total war and the need for munitions often pushed long-term environmental issues to the back seat. As a result, soil and water were contaminated, resulting in the declaration of many aspects of Camp Minden a “Superfund Site.”

Following the closure of Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, and the subsequent renaming to Camp Minden, an effort to rehab the usable parts of the property to industries of a similar nature to the original ammunition plant commenced. One of the first leases was GOEX, which moved the nation’s only black powder manufacturing facility in the United State to Webster Parish. GOEX enjoys a 99-year lease on the property.

Subsequently, other similar entities located at Camp Minden, including the now-famous Explo Systems Inc., that brought millions of pounds of M6 explosive propellent to the site.

Arrests, indictments, publicly outcry and a closed burn chamber later, the M6 is a fraction of what it was, and should be completely gone by May, according to reports. Explosive Service International (ESI) is to be commended for the work they’ve done.

This brings us to the latest controversy, what do we do with the burn chamber now?

For the past few months, a feud between the “keep the burn chamber” people and the “burn chamber must go” people has been playing out in public meetings, private meetings, and especially on social media.

On the surface, the controversy looks like the typical division we have seen all too often in Webster Parish. However, digging a little deeper reveals something much different.

Most of the people on both sides of this issue love Webster Parish. Most of the people on both sides of this issue want to see Webster Parish grow. Most of the people on both sides of this issue want to see economic development take place at Camp Minden.

The split occurs around the type of economic development that could take place. Both sides have extremely valid points, which makes the choice all the more difficult. However, neither side is evil, stupid, or on the take. In fact, most of those involved have done their homework and thoroughly researched the facts.

This is a complicated issue about more than just the burn chamber. It is about the future of Camp Minden and the surrounding communities. What do we want Camp Minden to be? What can feasibly be accomplished at Camp Minden? What do we do with the industries that are already there? What do we do about the contamination, both now and in the future?

Ultimately, the Louisiana Army National Guard and the State of Louisiana will decide the future of the burn chamber, and any other entities at Camp Minden — but not without public consideration.

The Camp Minden Citizens Advisory Group (CAG), the grassroots entity responsible for overseeing the M6 cleanup, will meet at the Minden Community House Monday night, Jan. 23.The meeting is part of a EPA Superfund Site Environmental Workshop. A large, passionate crowd is expected. However, it is my hope that all in attendance realize they are effectively working toward the same long-term goals.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, we all must still live, work, worship, and play together. This crossroads could be the beginning of a unified voice and direction for Webster Parish, or it could devolve into the same old divisiveness for which we are so famous. The choice is ours.

The Minden Community House is located at 711 Gladney Street. The workshop begins at 6:30 p.m., while the CAG meeting begins at 8 p.m.

David Specht is president of Specht Newspapers Inc. He may be reached via email at david@snimedia.com.

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