Covering Louisiana

Nov 19, 2013 5:26 PM by katc

No money set aside for military propellant removal

Louisiana officials haven't found a way to pay for the disposal of millions of pounds of military propellant that authorities said had been improperly stored at Camp Minden, a year after its discovery prompted the evacuation of a nearby town.

Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, head of the Louisiana National Guard, told state lawmakers Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Defense has ignored state requests for assistance to remove the explosive materials.

"We have not received any response to that as of this date," Curtis told the House homeland security committee.

Explo Systems Inc. was leasing space at Camp Minden for a federal military contract to separate military propellant bags and resell the components. Curtis said it's the federal government's responsibility to remove the propellant, which is used in artillery shells.

"My read of it so far is the Army has just disavowed this thing and has stiff-armed it all the way through," Curtis said.

The state Military Department had planned to use federal money to hire an outside contractor to remove the explosive materials. But those plans got sidelined by the federal government shutdown and continuing questions about federal funding for agencies, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

About 19 million pounds of explosive materials are at Camp Minden, a Louisiana National Guard base east of Shreveport.

Curtis said the National Guard is looking to sell as much of the propellant as it can as a way to help dispose of the material and is in discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about removal possibilities.

He said two companies whose materials were held by Explo at Camp Minden have agreed to remove their nearly 3 million pounds of product from the site, leaving about 16 million with no disposal plan - and an estimated $22 million disposal cost.

Curtis said the EPA wants to hire a contractor by January to begin removal, with completion targeted for mid-2015.

"If the EPA is looking for somebody to write a check, the state of Louisiana is not a good place to come looking for money," said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, who lives in the area of Camp Minden.

"I agree with you," Curtis said.

The Department of Defense didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about where Louisiana's request for assistance stands.

Thompson said the National Guard and Louisiana State Police have given hours of their time to guarding and managing the move and storage of the propellant. He said the message to federal officials is, "Y'all come on down and clean up your mess."

An explosion in October 2012 led to an investigation at Camp Minden, in which a Louisiana State Police investigator discovered the improperly-stored propellant, leading to the evacuation of nearby Doyline. Since then, state officials say the material has been moved to 97 secure sites at Camp Minden and is safely stored.

Executives of Explo Systems Inc. were indicted on felony charges related to the storage of the materials. At least two people have pleaded guilty.

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