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11:03 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Army engineers to inform Butler residents of gunnery range cleanup

Parcels along Tommie Drive and other streets in the Butler area will be the subject of environmental investigations related to soil contamination from a former World War II gunnery range. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to update residents on the remediation project that started in 2010. (Photo by Hubble Ray Smith/Daily Miner)

Parcels along Tommie Drive and other streets in the Butler area will be the subject of environmental investigations related to soil contamination from a former World War II gunnery range. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to update residents on the remediation project that started in 2010. (Photo by Hubble Ray Smith/Daily Miner)

KINGMAN – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hosting a community open house on the environmental cleanup of a former gunnery range in the Butler area from 5-8 p.m. Monday at the Eagles club, 4536 Patsy Drive.

Engineers will update residents about remediation work being performed on 284 residential parcels totaling about 75 acres in the area parallel to Route 66. They’ll answer questions and offer help for those affected by the work.

The Department of Defense used the area for the ground-to-ground gunnery range, known as former skeet ranges MRS03, for training during World War II.

The range’s footprint covers parcels on Tommie Drive, Packard, Lass, Snavely, Thompson, Lum, Ryan, Hearne, Devlin, Shaeffer, John L and Northfield avenues to the east.

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A soldier at 50 caliber machine gun, north gunnery range in 1943. (Photo by Emmert Michaels, courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

It’s the second phase of investigation following an inspection of the properties in 2010 and the “time critical” removal of highly contaminated soil in 2013 and 2014, said Lu Tan, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Los Angeles district.

Congress passed a law in 1986 requiring the Department of Defense to clean up all formerly used defense sites, he said.

The Corps of Engineers continues to investigate the gunnery range through an upcoming feasibility study of the site that requires access to properties in the footprint.

Specific information on the upcoming work includes what are the contaminants of concern, what work has already been done, what’s planned and how the work will affect residents.

They won’t be displaced from their homes, Tan assured. Soil samplings will be taken in open areas of the front or back yards, approximately 6 inches in diameter and no more than 2 feet deep.

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Unknown personnel at the north gunnery range in 1943. (Photo by Robert Gibson, courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

The Corps of Engineers began investigating the range in 1993 and found debris and soil contamination from the breakdown of clay pigeons. They were made with coal tar pitch, which contains chemicals known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

Seven soil samples were collected in areas with the highest likelihood for the presence of munitions and explosives, and analyses indicated an elevated level of PAH.

The Corps determined that 59 of the 298 parcels within the 15 skeet ranges required removal of the clay pigeon debris and contaminated soil.

“If your 2-year-old baby is in the backyard, there is risk,” Tan said, “but normally, who’s going to pick up black stuff off the ground and eat it?”

In 2013 and 2014, the Corps performed a “time critical” removal of a portion of the ranges. The first 10 properties near Tommie and Hearne were cleaned up in April 2013. The fix involved scraping off two feet of dirt and replacing it with new topsoil.

“They did a terrific job on our property,” Butler resident Joyce Stutzman told the Daily Miner in an email. “They fixed anything that wasn’t working like it was when we left. They did a great job compacting the soil and spreading pea gravel and replanting our plants. I feel for the landscaper who had to replant our cactus garden.”

The U.S. Army approved construction of Kingman Army Airfield in May 1942, and the gunnery school was started in August of that year to train gunners on the B-17 bomber to thwart enemy attacks during flight.

The Army built several training ranges around the airfield, covering nearly 8,000 acres, including MRS03 in 1943. The gunnery range had a 50-trap moving base range, malfunction ranges, moving target ranges, skeet ranges, a turret shotgun range and range estimation course.

Each range consisted of one or more shooting fields that were laid out in a semi-circle with a 63-foot radius. At skeet ranges, shooters used shotguns to fire at clay targets, called “pigeons.” The pigeons were fired from one high trap house and one low trap house made of wood, concrete or brick.

Anyone interested in learning about the investigation and cleanup is invited to attend the open house.