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Smokey Hills military site being examined

In a nation-wide effort to find any harmful materials at former National Guard sites, the Department of Defense is looking for leads in soils in areas as close as the Smokey Hills State Forest.

In 2002, the Defense Authorization Act was passed that required the Department of Defense to do an inventory of all sites that were used for military training where guns were fired.

"Historically, we haven't had a lot of environmentally regulations," Anna Hudson said. Hudson is serving as the clean-up program manager for the Army National Guard on this project.

This study will find the at-risk sites and "make sure there's not a risk to human health or safety left behind from those training activities," she said.

All of the sites that are being logged in the study have been closed for years, and most were used around the World War II time period.

"Most of them are pretty old. Looking through the Minnesota ones, a lot of them are from the '40s. There are a few newer ones, though."

In particular, the Smokey Hills Small Arms Range was used from 1982-92 for training purposes.

"They used small caliber pistols, like a 9 millimeter, .22 caliber, .45 caliber ammunitions. It's a 25-meter range with 10 firing points. About 30 people would fire weapons at a time, and I would say for the most part, it was probably once a year," she said according to records.

The historical sources reviewed included Minnesota National Guard records, state records and other sources of historical documentation related to military training. Through that research, 11 sites throughout Minnesota were identified as needing more information and evaluation.

"They trained near where the armories where, historically," Hudson said. "For the most part, they trained with small arms. It's an annual qualifying exercise. So that's the majority of the sites we're looking at."

The sites around Minnesota include Camp Lakeview Artillery Range, Camp Lakeview Small Arms Range, Madison Small Arms Range, Montevideo Small Arms Range, New Ulm Small Arms Range, Park Rapids Small Arms Range, Redwood Falls Small Arms Range, Smokey Hills Small Arms Range, Vogel Farm Small Arms Range (near St. Peter), Zumbrota Small Arms Range and Winona Local Training Area.

Hudson said the Smokey Hills property is state-owned land that is part of the state forest. The Guard leased the property from the state for training purposes.

The Department of Defense is doing this project in phases, and the first is to identify the properties that need further inspection. The hazards would mainly be the amount of lead in the soils from the bullets used.

"The focus of the site inspection would be to sample the soil in the target area. We would be comparing that to regulatory levels for lead and soil.

"If it's high, the National Guard would follow up with any soil removal and restoring it back to its original condition," she said. "And we would fund and manage that project."

Soil samples will be collected this fall and then sent to labs for testing.

"Our goal to complete this initial inspection is July 12."

That includes the samples, lab work and analyzing the results would be completed.

"Then we'd have to put it into our funding mechanisms to schedule it for future work," she said of the site that are contaminated and will need additional attention.