Army wants artillery restrictions lifted at Flats

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Army wants to remove restrictions on live-fire artillery training at Eagle River Flats on Fort Richardson.

The Army has used the mortar and artillery range north of Anchorage for about 40 years. It has limited use to the winter months since the 1990s, after state and federal biologists discovered thousands of duck and swan carcasses.

The biologists determined the culprit was white phosphorous left over from artillery exercises.

The Army has since cleaned up the site, and white phosphorous is no longer allowed in artillery shooting at the wetlands.

"We remediated the ponds by pumping them dry to expose the phosphorus to the oxygen, as well as capping those areas we couldn't drain so we have limited exposure," Therese Deardorff, environmental division chief for the Army, told KTUU-TV. "EPA and the state agreed we reached cleanup goals so we can potentially open it for year-round firing."

The Army, which held two public meetings this week, said there are three alternatives: keeping the restrictions, allowing year-round training or opening up a new area in the Chugach Mountains.

Even if the restrictions are lifted, the Flats would remain off-limits during the months of bird migration. That would allow for eight months of training.

The rules have forced the Army to send troops to the Interior for artillery training. Keeping them at Fort Richardson would save money and, officials say, improve the soldiers' quality of life.

"When they're home we like to keep them home as much as we can," Deardorff said.

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