The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is
combing the nation's terrain for unused mortar rounds, bullets and
grenades, and workers are searching abandoned World War II training
grounds in south Mississippi.
Decommissioned military airfields and firing ranges are the
focus of an ongoing U.S. Department of Defense program to remove
ordnance, as well as locate any contamination from fuels, oils and
chemical weapons, which could pose a threat to the public or damage
Officials estimate the number of abandoned World War II-era U.S.
military facilities is well over 1,000, but the current round of
the project is aimed at about 260 sites across the U.S. Mississippi
has nearly 30 on the list, six in the southern part of the state.
Future rounds of the program could encompass the remainder of
the training sites and airfields that sprang up during the military
personnel blitz in the later years of World War II.
Most of those installations were decommissioned by 1950, and
many of the munitions and chemicals were hastily buried.
"Unfortunately, when they left, they just left as quickly as
they could," said Mike McKown, of the Corps of Engineers office in
Mobile, Ala., which is handling the work in Mississippi.
Under the program, Corps of Engineers inspectors walk the sites,
take soil and ground water samples, and in some cases, mortar
rounds and grenades are exploded in the field. Some of the ranges
were used for chemical warfare and inspectors sometimes find
"duds" they must blow up.
The program does not include land the U.S. military still owns;
rather, acres in private ownership are qualified. With a large
number of tracts turned over to civilians, Pentagon officials
decided to start the program after fears emerged that developments
could be built over old military sites and residents could uncover
ordinance and be hurt, McKown said.
But none of those incidents have been reported here. Based on
the current assessments, which are still in the early stages, the
south Mississippi sites don't seem to pose much of a threat, McKown
said. He said most are in rural areas or on farmland that has been
tilled and inspectors believe most of the rounds already have been
The bulk of the south Mississippi sites see little foot traffic.
The Army Airfield Poorman Flexible Gunnery Range, used for
training soldiers with .50 caliber machine guns in the 1940s, is in
the heart of the DeSoto National Forest about 12 miles north of
Biloxi, just off Mississippi 15. It already has been assessed, and
Corps of Engineers inspectors found nothing to be concerned about,
It's a typical case for south Mississippi.
The site of the former Gulfport Army Airfield sprawls around the
Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and includes some of the
current property the Air National Guard occupies. Corps of
Engineers inspectors have yet to finish evaluations there. But from
the samples they have taken so far, inspectors haven't seen
anything to be concerned about, McKown said.
Other sites in the area include property on Horn Island and near
Camp Shelby that are no longer controlled by the military.
Corps officials have placed their reports on the Poorman
Flexible Gunnery Range in the temporary library trailers in
Gulfport for the public to view, and they are seeking public
comments about the range.
McKown said the current round of the program, which is expected
to take about five years to finish, could be expanded in 2011, if
Congress sets aside the money.