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Company works to calm fear of weapons cleanup at fort

March 09, 2001

Company works to calm fear of weapons cleanup at fort



By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Maryland firm contracted to remove unexploded ordnance at Fort Ritchie is gathering information to address citizen concerns about the operation.

The ordnance is on a 212-acre section of the former U.S. Army base that has been targeted for business development.

IT Group of Edgewood, Md., was contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Army to conduct the cleanup at the 638-acre base. Prior to beginning the work, IT Group is conducting a community outreach and public education program

So far 22 area residents have been interviewed in an effort to gauge public reaction to the ordnance removal. IT Group will hold an April 3 public meeting to answer questions and attempt to allay concerns about the planned cleanup.

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IT Group will use information gathered at that meeting and from other sources to develop a "Community Relations and Education Plan" due in late April. The cleanup is scheduled to begin sometime in the spring.

"We are basically just conducting interviews to see what everyone knew about the unexploded ordnance and what their concerns are," Jennifer W. Gaskill, the IT Group's community relations manager, said Wednesday.

Gaskill would not comment on the community reaction so far or provide a list of the questions asked. That information will be available when the education plan is completed, she said.

IT will also develop fact sheets, a school outreach program, and press releases, she said.

The April 3 meeting will be at the Cascade American Legion. A time has not been announced.

Cascade resident Karl Weissenbach met last week with IT representatives for about one hour.

"I am pleased the Army appears to be addressing the (unexploded ordinance issue) in an efficient manner," he said. "I only hope they proceed as quickly as possible so that one of the remaining obstacles impacting the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie will be removed."

The base closed in September 1995.

Ordnance will be removed to a depth of one foot across portions of the wooded mountainside and mountaintop, covering 114 acres, an IT Group representative said.

On another 94 acres, including land that is now developed or intended to become commercial use zoning, the contractor will dig to a depth of 4 feet in search of ordnance, the representative said.

It has been estimated the cleanup will take three years.

When the cleanup is done, that portion of the property will be transferred to the PenMar Development Corp., the IT Group said. PenMar was created by the Maryland General Assembly to redevelop the land for business use to replace the 2,000 jobs lost when Fort Ritchie closed in September 1998.

Historical records indicate the post was used from 1926 through the 1950s for military munitions training by the National Guard and later by the Army, according to an IT Group fact sheet. During World War II, Fort Ritchie was used as the Army War Department Military Intelligence Training Center, the fact sheet said.

National Guard and Army training activities included the firing of ordnance, creating "impact areas" that could contain unexploded ordnance, the fact sheet said.

Likely items to be encountered range from 3-inch Stokes mortars to 5 cm German bombs, and 2.36-inch rockets, according to the fact sheet.

Much of the area where unexploded ordnance could be found has been used by soldiers and their families for decades without incident. Six holes on the base's 9-hole golf course are within the area.

The course closed when the base did.

The unexploded ordinance area contains developed commercial and residential property, including 200 residential units, said Jim LaFleur, PenMar executive director. Those properties are empty until the munitions are cleaned up, he said.

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