On this crisp fall morning in Northeast Alabama, the surrounding calm was interrupted by explosions of Pentolite boosters and PETN Detonation Cord. The explosions commemorated the successful conclusion of an eleven-year effort to clean Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) off of 2781 acres of training ranges on the former Fort McClellan. Several distinguished guests were on hand to help commemorate this milestone event with the McClellan Development Authority (MDA). US Representative Mike Rogers, Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, and State Senator Del Marsh were among just a few of the many dignitaries present for the “Big Bang” celebration.
Fort McClellan, a US Army installation whose origins trace back to 1917, fell victim to the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure deliberations and the Fort officially deactivated in 1999. Today the McClellan Development Authority (successor to the Joint Powers Authority), serves as the Local Reuse Authority responsible for the economic redevelopment of this former military installation. A major part of those redevelopment efforts include the environmental cleanup of 4,692 acres so that the property can be put back to use for industrial, commercial, residential, and recreational expansion. Today’s celebration marks a significant milestone in the completion of those cleanup activities. While there are still sites scattered throughout the former fort that require soil and ground water remediation, the successful completion of UXO and other Munitions and Explosives of Concern (MEC) remediation represents a large portion of the overall environmental cleanup efforts.
September of 2003 saw the MDA’s predecessor and the US Army explore a new approach for environmental cleanup activities on military installations being transferred to local communities. Called the Environmental Services Cooperative Agreement or ESCA for short, this agreement committed a specific amount of US Army funding for the community to establish its own strategy, determine site cleanup priorities, and hire their own environmental contractors to conduct cleanup tasks. McClellan actually signed two ESCA agreements – one in 2003 and another larger funding allocation in 2007. In all, the McClellan cleanup program totals $216,280,008. With the completion of UXO/MEC remediation tasks, the MDA has spent $153M or approximately 70% of the entire program allocation. The remaining funds will be used to complete soil and ground water remediation and other long term monitoring activities at various sites.
For eleven years, citizens on McClellan and in the surrounding communities got used to the sound of detonations reverberating off the hills surrounding McClellan as cleanup crews disposed of UXO. During this timeframe MDA contractors cleaned 2781 acres of UXO/MEC. To do that, they first surveyed and marked 13,643 (100’x 100’) grids, then conducted investigations using digital electromagnetic and hand-held metal detectors to find potentially dangerous munitions. Through these actions contractors digitally mapped almost 6000 miles of geophysical data and found 387,909 anomalies that required excavation. When all was said and done, ordnance disposal teams destroyed 14,338 munitions and disposed of over 2,900,000 pounds of munitions related scrap. Most important of all, the cleanup teams did all of this with ZERO explosives accidents.
As the MDA cleanup team moves into the next phase of environmental activities, they can pause for just a moment to commemorate this significant milestone on the road of redevelopment and future economic growth for McClellan…a milestone that was reached effectively, safely, and on budget.