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Blast privatizing to be studied at Letterkenny

October 29, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Department of the Army has told Letterkenny Army Depot to conduct a study to determine if it would make sense to privatize the job of blowing up thousands of tons of ammunition every year.

"They destroy unsafe and unstable ammunition," depot spokesman Alan Loessy said of the 19-member Ammunition Demilitarization Division at the depot.

That includes aging artillery shells, tactical missile warheads and components and other explosives that are technologically obsolete or have aged to the point where they can no longer be handled safely.

Basically, the members bury the old ammunition in a large field within the depot's secured ammunition area and set it off with other charges, Loessy said.

Those who live and work near the depot are familiar with the occasional booming and window rattling that accompany the unit's work.

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The cost comparison study will begin this fiscal year and probably will be completed in 2000, according to Loessy. Whether the demilitarization of ammunition remains in government hands, or is privatized, the study requires the unit's operating costs to be reduced by at least 20 percent.

Loessy said all the unit members are civilian federal employees. He said the depot would not release the budget for the operation, since it may become subject to bidding by private contractors.

"The government can compete for this. It may not go to contract," Loessy said. He said the Office of Personnel Management orders the studies to "make government look at its operations to find the most efficient organization."

The depot also handles the storage and shipment of ammunition, an operation that employs 174 people and will not be affected by this study, Loessy said.

Approximately 13,000 acres of the more than 19,000 acres that make up the depot are for the storage, shipment and demilitarization of ammunition. The ammunition area has 902 reinforced concrete ammunition storage shelters, Loessy said.

Loessy said there an enormous amount of safety factors are built into the demilitarization operation.

If the Army privatizes demilitarization, Loessy said the 19 people will be given assistance in finding other jobs.

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