Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Old mining technology helps Oregon Guard stay "green"

On Monday, I had the chance to see first-hand the remediation efforts going on at the old shooting range at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, Ore.

Along with my coworkers, Tom Hovie and Kim Lippert, we used the construction area at the post as a backdrop to a video stand-up we were doing for the annual Year In Review video we produce here in Public Affairs.

As I learned more about what was going into reclaiming the land at Withycombe, I became more interested in how the soil was reclaimed, and the national recognition Oregon received for their efforts. What I found was a great example of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Oregon Guard.
Using antiquated gold-mining technology, environmental managers were able to remove lead bullets from the soil of the century-old shooting range. The innovative use of an old process saved the taxpayers millions, said Jim Arnold, Environmental Restoration Manager for the Oregon Military Department.

“The majority of savings comes from the cleaning process that takes place on the land itself, and by avoiding the cost of having to transport all of the waste to landfills,” Arnold said.

Withycombe is one of the oldest U.S. Department of Defense rifle ranges in the Western U.S. Until the late 1990s, the range had been used as a training site for hundreds of troops and police officers from around the area, resulting in nearly 300 tons of lead bullets in the soil. According to Arnold, it created a potential environmental concern that needed to be addressed.

“We want to be good stewards of the land,” said Arnold. “The soil remediation process allows us to clean up the area and restore it to its natural habitat,” he added.

The project was five years in the making, starting with a contract between the Oregon Military Department and AMEC Earth and Environmental, with coordination from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

During the soil washing process, contaminated soil is taken through a machine that screens the bullets out of the soil. The soil is then washed through another machine and the bullets are dropped into a bag, resulting in a pile of bagged bullets and a pile of clean soil.

Just before the project began workers uncovered a few surprises.

“When we started, we only had information that small arms were used here,” said Arnold. “But we have found ordnances from World War II, mortar rounds, grenades, and basically everything within the small arms category.”

All ordnance was safely disposed of on site. Throughout the process nearly 14,000 tons of soil has been cleaned and approximately 300 tons of bullets were recovered. The bullets will be recycled and the soil will be reused.

“One of the great approaches of this project is the reuse of materials and sustainable approach,” said Scott Kranz, AMEC Environmental Project Manager. “So often you end up excavating material and shipping off to a landfill, it’s nice to be reusing material.”

In the end, the National Guard Bureau's 2008 Environmental Security Award Program awarded Oregon a first place award in the Environmental Restoration category. The announcement came in October 2008.

Oregon is truly a green state, and with the help of the Oregon National Guard, it's even greener.

Thanks to Kim Lippert for contributions to this post.

Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard New Media Manager

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