Fort Ord Clean-Up Crew Faces Skeptical Public
September 24, 2012
The Fort Ord Reuse Authority's Environmental Services Cooperative Agreement Remediation Program faced a prickly public at a community information meeting last Thursday.
ESCA and its contractors presented an update on plans to investigate munitions on 12 acres of the Parker Flats area of the former Fort Ord. The work, scheduled for 7am-5pm Monday-Friday from October through December, will mean the leveling of many oak trees and hard closures along the 8th Avenue and Parker Flats access corridors on the former Fort Ord.
Those paved roads are popular among Fort Ord recreational users, and their closures compound public anger over FORA's crackdown on people using the surrounding dirt trails. While the so-called "Happy Trails" have been technically off-limits to the public since the former Army base's closure in the mid-1990s, FORA has until recently turned a blind eye to the thousands of hikers, bikers and equestrians who use them. Many view them as de facto public paths.
At the Sept. 20 meeting, packets on the seats detailed six documented incidents—all of them in the 1940s-1970s—in which people, mostly children, were seriously injured or killed by munitions after trespassing in closed Fort Ord areas.
FORA staff and their contractors detailed plans to remove underbrush and small trees in order to look for potentially dangerous weapons in the area. They said they will make an effort to avoid the larger trees, aged up to about 120 years, on a case-by-case basis. But pressed by Veterans Wild Fort Ord attorney Zan Henson (pictured above), they could not provide hard criteria used to make that determination.
LeVonne Stone of the Fort Ord Environmental Justice Network asked about protecting nearby residents from the impacts of controlled fires. The staff assured her no burns were planned for the Parker Flats area, but she persisted in questioning the larger Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan. "Why is it that we're talking about putting houses and schools in some place they should not be?" she asked.
Touching on a key issue in the debate over Fort Ord munitions clearing, the presenters emphasized that law requires cleanup to be done "to the reasonable future use of the area." Although Parker Flats area in question was mostly used for field exercises like camping and bivouac training, they said, earlier munitions removals have yielded discarded blanks, hand grenades, white-phosphorous grenades and other dangerous weaponry.
High-tech munitions detection methods have allowed ESCA officials to limit the current clearance project to 12 instead of 150 acres, and modify a former plan to remove the first 12-18 inches of soil across the entire area, one official said. "That's really good news."