AFTER THE PLANT CLOSED in 1997, the community speculated on the fate of its 8,500 acres. Some wanted to turn part of it into an industrial park, but as local home builder Paul Fortune puts it, “There was a big, huge, grassroots movement to beat that thing over the head, and we did.” Don Henley had another idea. Why not conserve the land as a wildlife refuge? The community liked the idea. In September 2009, more than 7,000 acres were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Caddo Lake Wildlife Refuge. For nature-seekers used to a pristine wilderness experience, a visit to the refuge is unsettling. A huge sign in the park office reads: “Unexploded Ordnance.” Pictures of warheads, flares and cartridges are on display. Half-demolished buildings resembling Star Wars battle robots are overgrown with moss and ivy. One site is now called “Stonehenge.” Mark Williams, project leader for the Caddo Lake Wildlife Refuge, sports black, thick-rimmed glasses and a crew cut. He has a hipster air, though he is straight out of rural Illinois. He and Bruckwicki have been driving me around the former army plant-cumwildlife refuge in a white F-150. They take me to Site 49. There’s not much to look at: a sign that reads “restricted area” introduces what appears to be undisturbed forest. It is a former acid storage site. When the soil was tested in 2004, scientists found mercury levels at 776 times the minimum hazardous level, Bruckwicki says. The Army was not required to clean up the site. Still, the wildlife service pressured the Army to remove the mercury-laden soil, and they did. Some of it, anyway. The Army never sampled to see if they had removed all of the mercury. Practices like these have made scientists like Bruckwicki reluctant to take over the refuge until they are sure it’s cleaned up. “They asked if we’re gonna take the property, and I said, ‘We won’t take it unless you sample the hole \(where ple the hole.’ It’s like, that’s fine. It’s your property. Keep it,” Bruckwicki says with a shrug of his shoulders. Down the road is a cheery place called “the burning ground,” where plant workers used to blow up substandard ammunition and clean rocket motors with perchlorate on the bare earth. “So we have a perchlorate plume underground here,” Bruckwicki says. Harrison Bayou is wedged between the burning ground and Landfill 16. Both percholate and TCE have seeped into the bayou. “They are trying to stem that flow,” Bruckwicki says. They may have tried too late. AT A COMMUNITY MEETING in nearby Karnack in May, 65 people crowded into the community center beside the train tracks. They wanted to know why the rest of the Army’s land had not been transferred to the wildlife refuge. “We can’t take contaminated property into the system. We’d love to have every piece out here,” Williams tells the crowd. He says the 7,000 acres they took were clean. The remaining land is contaminated. The Army has proposed a cleanup plan, but some scientists say it is unsound. “The Army believes that they have characterized the extent of contamination at this site, but that’s clearly wrong,” says George Rice, a groundwater hydrologist hired by Caddo Lake Institute, a nonprofit conservation group. He points to a map of Caddo Lake PHOTO BY LAURA BURKE Ecologically sneaking, there is no good place for a bomb plant. But the shore of Caddo Lake was one of the worst picks possible. JUNE 25, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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