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Letterkenny blasting to stay the same

February 06, 2002

Letterkenny blasting to stay the same



By STACEY DANZUSO
chbbureau@innernet.net


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Responding to neighbors' concerns, Letterkenny Army Depot officials said Tuesday the depot is backing off a request to blast up to three times the amount of munitions it currently has a permit for.

Col. Robert English, depot commander, announced Tuesday the depot was no longer seeking a permit to detonate up to 1,500 pounds at once after residents complained about the noise it would create.

English also said the depot will pursue new technology that could eventually replace the need to burn or detonate unstable munitions.

As part of its mission, Letterkenny must destroy munitions that have become unsafe or unreliable. This is now done within the Letterkenny Munitions Center's 16,000 acres at the depot up to 14 times on days the weather is good, said Ed Averill, director of the Munitions Center.

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Workers dig a pit 10- to 15-feet deep, place the munitions in it and cover the items back up with the earth before detonating the pile, Averill said.

He said he had not received too many complaints about the noise from the blasts until a public meeting in last fall when residents opposed the depot's request to change its detonation permit.

In November the depot and munitions center announced their intention to renew an Open Burning/Open Detonation permit through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The permit is renewed every 10 years, and in the past, Letterkenny has had to request a waiver in order to detonate items more than 500 pounds.

To prevent delays that occur when a waiver must be requested, Letterkenny applied for a permit that would allow up to 1,500 pounds, English said.

Waivers are necessary when rocket motors or a larger than average item becomes aged or unstable, he said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said he was pleased with the depot's decision to drop the request for an increase.

"I believe the outcome was responsible to the community without diminishing Letterkenny's role to the U.S. Army," said Shuster, who heard from about 50 residents concerned with Letterkenny's request.

Shuster is helping form a task force to find ways to strengthen Letterkenny's position in national defense as the government is planning to close more military bases over the next several years.

In the meantime, English said the depot is searching for alternatives to detonation.

Averill said Letterkenny has a stockpile of munitions in excess of 100,000 tons. Most of that is usable but about 16,000 tons will have to be detonated.

"None of these things were designed to be destroyed or taken apart," he said.

The stockpile includes everything from .22-caliber bullets to air-launched missiles, Averill said.

There are a few items over 1,000 pounds that the depot will still have to get waivers to detonate, but the average detonation is about 320 pounds, he said.

English also announced Tuesday new initiatives to address the noise concerns.

The depot will install a $4,500 weather station to monitor conditions because the National Weather Service can not provide up-to-the-minute information on wind shifts and temperature inversions, which affect how noisy the blasts sound.

"The noise that results in complaints is directly related to weather conditions that exist at the time of detonations," English said.

A hotline has also been added to handle noise complaints and will allow the Munitions Center to analyze the complaints against the weather conditions at the time of the detonation.

The hotline will be manned whenever the depot is detonating and for about two hours afterward. The number is 1-717-267-8860.

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