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Army Corps studies military debris recycling on Native lands

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the feasibility of using indigenous peoples' land in Alaska, Hawaii and the United States to build recycling facilities for military practice range debris.

The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville, along with contractors Bering Sea Eccotech and Science Applications International Corp., have completed phase I of the Centralized Range Residue Recycling Facility Feasibility (CR3F) study, a $2.7 million project that has been conducted over the past five years.

The study selected 14 tribes they believed were most capable of supporting a CR3F business: two in Alaska, two in Hawaii and 10 in the continental United States. The selections were based on land availability, size, location, business infrastructure, work force skill level and size and proximity to mills.

The study is ready to launch phase II, if Congress continues to fund the project, said Maureen Lawrence, CR3F project manager.

''The next step is to present this concept to the commanders at the active military installations who may benefit from these recycling facilities. Then we would need to develop memoranda of understanding between the [military] installations and the tribes that will be operating the facilities,'' Lawrence said in a release.

Range residue is the debris left from military munitions, targets, packaging, crating and other materials left on military practice ranges. The scrap needs to be removed for safety reasons.

''None of it would have any kind of explosives, or chemical-type materials. We have a whole different process that does removals involving all that dangerous kind of stuff. This would just be junk,'' Lawrence told Indian Country Today.

The idea is to have the Native communities turn the scrap - particularly the metal scrap - into a recyclable form and sell it to manufacturing mills that use recycled metal.

''This project presents a great opportunity to provide economic growth that may improve the lives and livelihoods in Indian country, Alaska Native communities and on Hawaiian homelands,'' said Elary Gromoff Jr., executive vice president of BSE in a press release issued by the Army Corps.

BSE is an Alaska Native Corporation 8(a) company owned by the Aleut Natives of St. Paul Island, a remote island located in the central Bering Sea.

During the phase I screening, the project team made site visits and discussed the possible partnership with tribal leaders. The 14 selected communities were further winnowed down to eight: Eklutna and Nenana, Alaska; Barbers Point and Hilo, Hawaii; the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla reservation, Oregon; and the Pueblo of Laguna and Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

Detailed business and project management plans were developed for each of the sites, including plans for design and buildings, permits, agreements, procedures and approves; and operation and maintenance manuals, Frank Pickering, assistant vice president for engineering and infrastructure at Science Applications International Corp., said in the press release.

Under the proposed plan, a Native community would build the recycling facility at its own cost. It's not known yet what that cost would be or whether the community would be required to build to the design and specification provided by the Army Corps.

It's not clear whether the Native recycling facilities would be allowed to recycle materials from sources other than the military.

The Army Corps would pay to transport military practice range debris to the recycling facility. The Native recycling plant would then process the range residue metal, and pay to transport the recycled material to the mill.

The price for recycled metal, as of last September, was estimated to be around $190 a ton, said Arnecia Bradley, the Army Corps' technical manager for the study.

''We are assuming the material will be about 12,000 tons per year. That's an average amount. It could be more and we think it will be a lot more, but until we go out and see how much there actually is on the range, we can only give an approximate amount,'' Bradley said.

The Native recycling facilities would be certified by the Department of Defense ''so they will not be exempt [as sovereign nations] from anything that is required in a DoD facility,'' Lawrence said.

Many of the unanswered questions will be answered during phase II of the study, if it goes forward, Lawrence said.

The Army Corps is asking for an additional $500,000 and nine months to complete phase II.