CAMP MINDEN — Elected officials, citizens and the media were given a tour Thursday at Camp Minden of the site where nearly 16 million pounds of M6 artillery propellant will be destroyed – the largest munitions disposal in the history of the world, officials say.
Dean Schellhase, with Explosive Service International, explained much of what is taking place, saying assessment of the 90 magazines of M6 begins next week. Each bunker contains anywhere from 140,000 to 300,000 pounds of propellant. With each passing day, it becomes more unstable, he said.
“We’ve prioritized the magazines; we’re actually going through them next week with two groups reassessing,” he said. “We’ll be starting the first live fire in late February; Feb. 27 is the target date. Then in March we’ll be trying to get up to speed, as much as we can get, and then go into full force with destruction of the material immediately after that.”
Construction of the abatement system has been underway for a while now, and the burn chamber shipped out of Oklahoma Thursday morning, Bob Hayes, with El Dorado Engineering said.
The burn chamber will then be barged along the Arkansas, Mississippi and Red Rivers until it reaches Natchitoches. It will be trucked from Natchitoches to Camp Minden, with an estimated arrival date at Jan. 8. The completion date is targeted for January 2017, he said.
Once destruction begins, the M6 will be trucked in specialized trucks from each magazine to Area I, to the material staging area. It will be unpackaged and prepared for burning.
“We’ll be putting it in within increments of up to 880 pounds at a time, and hopefully be doing about three of those per hour,” he said. “When we go to get rid of this, we can’t compromise safety to our personnel handling it. It’s imperative that as fast as we want to go to get rid of this problem, we have a lot of people coming into harm’s way, and we’re going to make sure their safety is first.”
The burn chamber is 24 feet in diameter, 110 feet tall and weighs approximately 200 tons. Once the M6 goes through the burn chamber and the pollution abatement system, he says the air coming from the stacks will be cleaner than hospital air.
Schellhase says it will only take seconds to destroy the propellant, and the gasses emitted from the chamber will go through the pollution abatement system, which will take roughly 15 minutes.
The afterburner process is what has been so important to the community, Ron Curry, regional administrator for the EPA Region 6, said.
“The after burn is key to all this,” he said, adding that after some concerns were brought up by State Rep. Gene Reynolds about the air monitoring, they will be looking into addressing them.
The operation will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Reynolds expressed concern about not having a monitoring station in the Haughton area, calling it a minor concern. He says after some discussion Thursday, it will be addressed.
Overall, he’s pleased with the progress.
“I’m very pleased with what I saw today after all the meetings and all the arguments, it looks like we’re making a lot of progress to get this stuff out of here,” Reynolds said. “It’s quite rewarding to have all this attention and all this money and all the political clout that we’ve had get behind this particular problem.”
The entire project has three phases, construction taking place now, the actual destruction of the M6 and then site closeout and demobilization. Upon completion of the removal action, ESI will deconstruct the unit and restore the site to its original condition.
Ron Hagar, president of the Camp Minden Citizens Advisory Group, says he feels confident the process is as safe as it can be.
“I’ve learned a whole lot about how to have a clean burn since we started this challenge,” he said. “They’re already working to assure that each day that they burn is going to be a safer day for the Minden area, and this abatement system is the cutting edge in terms of clean air. We really appreciate the agencies’ listening to the citizens’ demand for the cleanest possible, and somewhat surprising us by giving us the cleanest possible.”
Curry says the citizens set a precedent in its grassroots efforts to stop the open burn.
“The efforts of the community have been at the forefront of this to get us to this point today,” he said. “We’re in a much better place than we were last year at this time. It’s a dynamic process, and that dynamic process has been driven by the community – the partnerships that have been forged out of the LMD, the state and the Army to get where we are today. Sometimes it’s easy to say the word partnership, but all you had to do was be on the tour today to see that the partnership was real and the manifestation of that partnership is what is in the ground out there today.”