CAMP MINDEN — Safety has become an increasing concern for residents and officials in and around Camp Minden as state and federal officials continue to hash out the open tray burn approved by the U.S. Army versus what they feel is a safer alternative for disposal of nearly 19 million pounds of M6 propellant.
Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton says officials tell him everything is as safe as it can be at the moment.
“We’re told right now that the bunkers are going to handle anything out there,” Sexton said. “We are told there will not be a chain reaction event from them. Nobody has ever dealt with this magnitude of M6 propellant in the history of our country. What we’re being told is their best scientific guesswork.”
Sexton said authorities have told him there is no danger, but because of the sheer amount of propellant, it’s a concern for Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center.
“The last bunker worked quite well,” the sheriff said of the explosion, “but the concern is that was 127,000 pounds in that bunker. Now, what we have is 300,000 pounds in the bunkers. I have to rely on what the explosives professionals tell us. I have never been warned that BDCC needs to be evacuated, which is a concern.”
Total capacity at the prison is 440 inmates. Add to that about 75 personnel, with about 25 to 30 on each shift. At this time, he has about 350 prisoners housed at BDCC, plus the 25 to 30 guards and personnel on site at all times. He estimated Camp Minden has close to 1,000 people on the grounds at any given time, more so during the day.
Sexton says there is a plan of evacuation if necessary. He has an agreement with the Webster Parish School Board to transport prisoners by bus to other facilities, but high security risk offenders are transported by armed guard in another vehicle.
Homeland Security Director John Stanley says the Louisiana National Guard’s Youth Challenge program also has a plan in place to evacuate on a short-term and long-term basis, if need be.
Camp Minden itself has a plan to get companies located on the installation to safety, Stanley said.
With all the fear surrounding the unknowns of the situation, Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, said the potential danger is more with what will be released in the air from the open tray burn than a chance a bunker will explode again.
“They’re designed for safety to send the energy force into a safe direction,” he said of the M6 propellant. “If a bunker went off, is there a possibility of a chain reaction? Not likely. There is a safe separation in distance between bunkers and the design of the bunkers should prevent this. They complement each other in design and layout.”
Doyline Mayor Gary Carter says he’s getting conflicting reports of how safe it really is.
“They (EPA) have not communicated very well with the public, so we don’t know what their plan is to take a stand with or against them,” he said. “We’ve been sheltered on what they are actually planning and what they’re going to do.
“We hear this, and in the next breath, we hear something totally different,” he continued. “They say this stuff will be at its most volatile state by August. But if they want to start burning this like they planned, it’s going to take two years. I’m not a mathematician, but 24 months is two years, and August is seven months away. So it just doesn’t add up.”
Stanley expressed his frustration with state and federal officials as well, saying he is not being kept in the loop.
“I’ve written a letter to the Military Department and everyone else in the world, asking them to put us back in the loop,” he said.
“They have just abandoned us, and by us, I mean the locals. They (EPA and state agencies) have laws about keeping the public in the loop, and they just threw all that crap out the window. But they keep saying they are keeping the locals in the loop.”
While Doyline may not have a plan in place, Carter says he has researched since taking office, and he doesn’t agree the open burn is the best method.
“We have to get rid of it,” he said of the M6 propellant. “Is this the best method? I do not know. It’s proven that burning it will create environmental and health hazards. So, do I think that’s the correct method? I do not. Do I have an answer? I do not. I would like to see them take a little more time and get the right disposal method to get rid of it.”