The U.S. Army has proposed limiting camping and other future uses in lieu of cleanup for certain areas at Badger Army Ammunition Plant. If approved by state regulators, the request will relieve the Army of its responsibility to clean up soil contamination on land parcels slated for transfer to the State of Wisconsin, the Bluffview Sanitary District, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The Army’s recently-disclosed proposal challenges a 1995 permit approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) which specifies both the contaminants of concern and the maximum amount of contamination that the Army can leave in soils after cleanup. The Army wants to increase allowed levels of the carcinogenic explosive 2,6-DNT, for example, from 4.29 to 620 parts per million (ppm). Soil cleanup goals for lead would increase from 30 to 500 ppm.
The Settling Ponds area is the largest contaminated site at Badger – spanning the width of the plant from U.S. Highway 12 to the Wisconsin River. Over the last decade the military has expended millions of dollars on multiple risk assessments and studies trying to avoid cleaning up the sprawling 70-acre hazardous waste site.
Instead of cleanup, the Army’s proposal relies on land use controls to limit human contact and exposure to residual soil contamination. These controls could include prohibiting camping, restrictions on hunting, restrictions on grazing/agriculture, fences, deed restrictions, and re-classification of certain areas as “industrial.”
However unlike other sites at Badger, where contamination has migrated to depths of more than 100 feet, much of the contamination at the Settling Ponds is limited to the top few feet of soil where it is accessible and easily remediated.
With projected cleanup costs as high as $60 million, the military simply doesn’t want to spend the money required to remediate the site to levels that would allow unrestricted future use.
This initial proposal is specific to the Settling Ponds however if approved, the Army is expected to push for similar concessions in other areas throughout Badger that are still under investigation.
The Settling Ponds are located along the installation’s southern boundary and were first used in 1941. Altogether the site is comprised of Final Creek, four Settling Ponds, and five Spoils Disposal Areas. During active production years, these man-made ponds received sanitary and industrial wastewater from the entire facility and surface runoff from the Nitroglycerine, Rocket Paste, and Magazine (ammunition storage) areas, and ultimately discharged into Lake Wisconsin at Gruber’s Grove Bay.
Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger is a community-led group that has worked for sustainable reuse of Badger Army Ammunition Plant for almost 20 years.