Burn Chamber arrives at Camp Minden after long journey

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The contained burn chamber that will destroy 16 million pounds of M6 artillery propellant and clean burning igniter arrived at Camp Minden through its freight gate Thursday.

Adjutant General Maj. Glenn H. Curtis watches as preparations are made for the contained burn chamber to turn into Camp Minden Thursday. Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald
Adjutant General Maj. Glenn H. Curtis watches as preparations are made for the contained burn chamber to turn into Camp Minden Thursday. Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald

Col. Pete Schneider, with the Louisiana Military Department, has been with the burn chamber since it left the Natchitoches Parish Port Monday. He says it will take about four days to attach the chamber to the pollution abatement system; it will be another 30 to 45 days before actual destruction of the M6 will begin.

“They have to systemize it and make sure everything is working,” he said.

When the test burns are completed, the destruction of the M6 will begin in earnest; Schneider says it will take roughly nine months to one year to complete. Then the chamber will be dismantled and destroyed.

The M6 burn chamber. Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald
The chamber makes the turn onto the grounds of Camp Minden. Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald

The burn chamber is 24 feet in diameter, 110 feet tall and weighs approximately 200 tons. Dean Schellhase, of Explosive Service International, said in December that once destruction begins, they expect to burn 880 pounds of the artillery propellant at a time, aiming to burn three trays per hour. The M6 will be trucked in specialized vehicles from the magazines, or bunkers, to the destruction site, where it will be stored in a building.

Once at the site, packaging will be separated from the munitions and the munitions will be loaded onto trays. The trays will then be put onto a conveyer belt that will move it into the burn chamber. Once the burn has been completed, gasses from the burn will push through the pollution abatement system and the air dispensed into the atmosphere will be cleaner than hospital air, Schellhase said.

ESI officials expect to burn 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the destruction is complete.

Along Highway 80, Webster Parish Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Bobby Igo Jr., Captain Robert Hayden and Jenny Reynolds, Region 7 coordinator for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, discuss the route of the M6 burn chamber as they wait for it to arrive at Camp Minden Thursday afternoon. Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald
Along Highway 80, Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Bobby Igo Jr., Captain Robert Hayden and Jenny Reynolds, Region 7 coordinator for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, discuss the route of the M6 burn chamber as they wait for it to arrive at Camp Minden Thursday afternoon. Bruce Franklin/Press-Herald

Streets along the route were closed only long enough to get the chamber through, Schneider said. With the difficult turns and the sheer size of the chamber, multiple utility companies worked to move power lines to allow the chamber to come through.

Its journey began in Ponca, Oklahoma in December from MJ&H Fabrication, trucked by a heavy hauler on a trailer with 96 wheels to navigate the difficult turns. It then sat on barge in Catoosa, Oklahoma, on the Arkansas River for weeks as floodwaters delayed its travel. It was barged from the Arkansas River over to the Mississippi River. From there, it turned onto the Red River coming north to rest at the Natchitoches Parish Port.

It arrived at the port Friday, and it began its slow journey Monday at about four-and-a-half to five miles per hour to Camp Minden.

The State of Louisiana entered into a contract with Explosive Service International on June 17, 2015, to conduct the destruction of approximately 15,687,247 pounds of M6 propellant and approximately 320,890 pounds of clean burning igniter currently stored at Camp Minden.

The initial contract was for $19,292,648 and is expected to be increased to $34-$35 million to account for the additional requirements set forth by the EPA.

The amount is based on receipt of additional funding that comes from the U.S. Treasury’s Judgment Fund on behalf of the U.S. Army for the work, National Guard officials said.

In 2014, Webster Parish citizens learned the EPA approved the open burn method of destruction. With the help of legislators, environmental activists and others, community members came together to stop the open burn. They called on the EPA to form a dialogue committee to choose an alternate method of destruction – in the end, the contained burn method.

The Citizens Advisory Group was formed under the EPA to oversee the process of the contained burn from beginning to end. In December, media, community and elected officials took a tour of the site where ESI and military officials explained the process and answered questions.

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