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Oregon Guard Uses Mining Techniques to Clean Up Shooting Range

By Kim Lippert
Special to American Forces Press Service

CLACKAMAS, Ore. , Oct. 1, 2008 – In a landmark project, the Oregon National Guard is relying on gold-mining technology to restore the land at a century-old shooting range on Camp Withycombe here.

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Two-ton "super sacks" like this one contain lead bullets removed during a reclamation project at a former firing range at Camp Withycombe, Ore. About 300,000 pounds of bullets were removed from the soil in an effort to return the land to its original condition. Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Moff

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The process will remove lead bullets from the land and at the same time save the state millions of dollars.

“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,” said Jim Arnold, environmental restoration manager for the Oregon Military Department.

Camp Withycombe is one of the oldest Defense Department rifle ranges in the western United States. Until the late 1990s, it had been used as a training site for hundreds of troops and police officers from around the area. Nearly 300 tons of bullets containing lead ended up in the land, creating a potential environmental concern that needed to be addressed.

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

The project, five years in the making, took a lot of planning. The Oregon Military Department contracted with AMEC Earth and Environmental and coordinated with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to do the soil remediation.

Contaminated soil is taken through a machine that screens out the bullets. The soil then washes through another machine, and the bullets are dropped into a bag. The result is a pile of bagged bullets and a pile of clean soil.

In addition to bullets, workers uncovered a few other 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 about 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,” said Scott Kranz, the AMEC environmental project manager. “So often you end up excavating material and shipping off to a landfill. It’s nice to be reusing material.”

Once the project is completed this month, the Oregon Military Department will restore the land to its natural state. More careful planning will allow the Oregon Military Department to ensure trees are replanted and wildlife native to the land is restored.

“We’re [making] it a better place than it was when we started,” Arnold said.

(Kim Lippert works for the Oregon National Guard.)

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Oregon Military Department

Click photo for screen-resolution imageScott Kranz, a contractor, works with equipment originally designed for gold mining to remove bullets from soil in a former firing range at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, Ore. The project is part of a reclamation effort to remove the potentially dangerous lead projectiles and to return the land to its original condition. Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Moff  
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