CSWAB report on Army initiative exploring early transfer of excess federal properties to non-profit conservation organizations

Following months of investigation, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger today makes public an Army initiative exploring early transfer of excess federal properties to non-profit conservation organizations an initiative that could effect cleanup and land use at facilities across the nation and a process that so far has excluded local government, effected communities, and tribal government. The following is CSWAB’s report.

Also see related story: Many Local Stakeholders Not Included In Process

As costs to operate and maintain its closing bases increase, the U.S.
military is looking for ways to minimize environmental cleanup costs,
control potential site liabilities, and expedite transfer. A report,
prepared for the U.S. Army by a Virginia-based consulting firm called
BAHR (Businesses of Adams, Hargett and Riley, Inc.), looks at ways to
accelerate the transfer of sites from the Department of Defense
inventory to federal and private conservation groups.

During the first phase of this initiative, the Army and Navy nominated
specific properties excessed between 1988 and 1995 as likely candidates
for conservation and recreation transfers. Beginning in November 2000,
BAHR representatives visited each of these properties and met with what
the report describes as “major players” including Army and Navy
personnel, General Services Administration personnel, some Local
Redevelopment Authorities, state and federal agencies, and conservation
organizations. Each site was visited at least once; some were visited
two or three times.

Army parcels included: National Guard Bennet, CO (roughly 280 acres);
Fort Ord, CA (roughly 800 acres); Hamilton Army Airfield, CA (roughly
500 acres); Seneca Army Depot, NY (roughly 8000 acres); Camp Bonneville,
WA (roughly 3850 acres); Badger Army Ammunition Plant, WI (4000 acres);
and Pueblo Chemical Depot, CA (roughly 14000 acres).

Navy parcels included: Alameda Naval Air Station, CA (roughly 1020
acres); Mare Island Naval Shipyard, CA (roughly 130 acres); and Barbers
Point Naval Air Station, HI (roughly 230 acres).

Currently 72,000 of the 440,000 acres of BRAC (Base Realignment and
Closure) property to be transferred out of the Department of Defense are
in the “unsuitable” category due to the need to address environmental
cleanup requirements, BAHR reports. In some cases soil and/or
groundwater on these properties may contain residual contamination below
federal cleanup standards but at levels higher than “pristine” levels
Local Reuse Authorities and nearby communities may demand, BAHR said.
In other cases, properties contain unexploded ordnance (UXOs), BAHR

BAHR suggests EPA Brownfields initiatives are and will continue to be
an important mechanism to reduce cleanup costs specifically in their
role to “promote risk-based cleanups”. EPA, as the primary
administrator of Superfund, BAHR writes, has historically mandated
stringent standards for cleanup without regard to current or future
intended use of the property. These standards often require cleaning up
to “background” levels or levels that allow for unrestricted use of the
property. Such cleanups have proven to be very costly to the military,
BAHR cautions.

By comparison, EPA policies such as its Brownfields Initiatives have
resulted in what BAHR reports are “more reasonable costs”. A majority
of cleanups conducted in recent years under the EPA’s brownfield
standards are “risk-based closures that permit some contamination to
remain in place and rely on the implementation and stewardship of
so-called land use controls”, the report concludes.
Such controls indefinitely restrict the use of the land and its natural
resources. Land use controls include “institutional controls” such as
deed restrictions that limit how the land is used; for example, a deed
restriction may eliminate farming or gardening as a potential future
use. “Engineering” land use controls physically restrict access and
include include fences and landfill caps.

Long-term stewardship of land use control is a precarious business.
“At both Army and Navy sites, public officials and communities alike
have serious concerns that significant risks may be posed to public
health and environment if sites are not appropriately monitored,” BAHR

One way of expediting transfer of contaminated properties that have a
high potential for conservation and recreational use is to transfer
these lands to a non-profit entity, BAHR suggests. Current laws,
however, do not allow conveyances for parks, recreation, and wildlife
conservation to non-profit conservation groups.

With support from the military departments, the General Services
Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park
Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, the Navy elected to draft
legislation that would place responsibility for the property transfer
squarely in the hands of the military Service Secretary.

The legislation, if approved by Congress, would only apply to surplus
real property for which there is no pending request for transfer to
another federal agency or other qualified recipient.

If a conservation group agrees to perform the cleanup under early
transfer authority, it may cost less than if the Army or Navy managed
cleanup themselves. And while federal CERCLA (Superfund) law requires
federal agencies to make certain disclosures and covenants regarding the
presence of hazardous substances to recipients, BAHR reports CERCLA does
not impose similar requirements on private parties who sell property.

“In most cleanups, we would conduct the cleanup before transfer, but
in one case we transferred the property ‘as is’ and ‘where is’ and gave
(the new owners) the money to cleanup and then they bought cleanup
insurance. We did this at the Presidio with the National Park Service,”
said Mrs. Jan Menig, Department of Army Assistant Chief of Staff for
Installation Management, the office that contracted with BAHR.

The Department of Defense selected four conservation groups to
illustrate potential interest in excess DoD property although none of
the groups have endorsed the concept, BAHR reports. The chosen groups
were The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Trust for Public Land, Conservation
Fund, and Land Trust Alliance. TNC normally buys properties with high
biodiversity value with a goal of eventually selling the properties (at
no profit but with 10% overhead cost recovery) to a federal or state
conservation agency, BAHR said.

BAHR cautioned, however, that such an approach for excess or surplus
military properties will require thoughtful and careful involvement of
the local community. “Any effort whose effect would be to reduce Army
or Navy cleanup costs could be viewed locally with skepticism,” the
report concluded.

BAHR said a subsequent study to look at the feasibility of implementing
these recommendations is likely.

The complete BAHR report is available at http://www.miltoxproj.org/BAHR.pdf

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB) was organized in 1990 when
the community learned private drinking water wells near the Badger Army
Ammunition Plant were polluted with high levels of cancer-causing
chemicals. Over the last eleven years, CSWAB has successfully faced
these and other challenges with great success. The group’s
accomplishments include gaining the Army’s withdrawal of a proposal to
incinerate 1,000,000 pounds of waste munitions, blocking a permit to
open burn 2,500 pounds per day of hazardous waste, and obtaining
comprehensive water testing for nearby neighbors. CSWAB continues its
fight is to build a sustainable future on the prairie now occupied by
the Badger plant — a cooperative project, bringing together cultures,
resources, and a shared land conservation ethic.