Camp Shelby area on list of sites Defense Dept. is searching for unused ordnance

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

the environment.

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,

McKown said.

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.