SAN ANTONIO -- Land that was vital to the war effort in the 1940s is now important to the surrounding communities for other reasons. Army ammunition plants were established in very rural, unpopulated areas, and required thousands of acres of land that are now being returned to the communities that flourished around the facilities because of the availability of work for both men and women.
The Army’s massive construction projects to support the production and storage of ammunition during World War II were unprecedented in history and a significant factor in the victory of the Allies. Between 1940 and 1943, 77 industrial facilities and 30 depots were established.
Some Army ammunition plants became operational within six months of construction to ensure our military forces had what they needed to win the war. By 1945, Army ammunition facilities had produced 11 million tons of artillery ammunition, more than 475,000 tons of mortar ammunition, 6 million tons of bombs and rockets and 39 billion rounds of small arms ammunition.
But with the start of the Cold War, the plants lay empty and unused. Later the Army would learn the toll taken on the land and water associated with these industrial facilities, and still today Army cleanup efforts continue to restore the land for reuse by the community.
In 2001, Army leaders directed a review of the industrial base program in support of Army transformation requirements. This resulted in the identification of 13 excess industrial installations the Army wanted removed from its rolls.
Over the next decade the Army would revise this list of excess property and make acreage available for reuse. The U.S. General Services Administration was designated as the disposal authority. But before the land could be transferred to others, it needed to be cleaned up and declared protective of human health and the environment.
Over the last two decades the Army has achieved Response Complete or Remedy in Place status at many of these properties. Unfortunately, the remaining cleanup work is complex and therefore expensive. The anticipated cleanup costs for these properties are in the hundreds of millions of dollars mostly related to military munitions responses and large groundwater plume cleanups.
The former Badger Army Ammunition Plant in Sauk County, Wisconsin, was originally established on 10,500 acres. In addition to supporting World War II, the plant produced ammunition for the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
There were originally 38 environmental cleanup sites, but all explosive decontamination and soil remediation have been completed, and only three sites remain. More than 2,000 acres were transferred to the Department of Agriculture for the Dairy Forage Research Center. The land is used for row crop production, manure management and grazing experiments.
Approximately 1,500 acres were transferred to the Secretary of the Interior to be held in trust and became part of the Ho-Chunk Nation Reservation. These lands represent ancestral homeland to the Ho Chunk who were displaced from the area. A large portion of the property will be restored and managed as native grassland.
A small parcel went to a municipality to maintain a wastewater treatment facility. But the largest portion, more than 3,300 acres, went to the state of Wisconsin, where the Department of Natural Resources established the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area.
The former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant near Charlestown, Indiana, was closed in 1988 by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and became an industrial park. In 2002, the remainder was declared excess property and more than 4,000 acres transferred to the state of Indiana. Another 5,900 acres went to the River Ridge Redevelopment Authority, some at no cost and some at fair market value.
All of the 89 environmental sites requiring cleanup had reached response complete or remedy in place status. The River Ridge Commerce Center currently is home to more than 60 companies employing more than 10,500 workers. The business and manufacturing park has 6,000 acres under development. The state land went to the Department of Natural Resources who established the Charlestown State Park, the third largest park in Indiana and a stop on the Indiana Birding Trail.
Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, in the northeast corner of Illinois, included two separate facilities on more than 27,000 acres. A total of 61 sites were identified as requiring environmental cleanup, with 51 reaching response complete status. Cleanup continues on the remaining 10 sites.
Over 22,000 acres of the former ammunition plant has been transformed into multiple beneficial use areas for the community, including a US Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery, the largest master-planned inland port in North America, and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The public land space on this site is now the largest contiguous open space for bird habitat in northeastern Illinois and serves as a habitat for several endangered species.
St. Louis Army Ammunition Plant, in the northwest section of the city of St. Louis, Missouri was originally comprised of approximately 21 acres and nine buildings. All sites that required environmental cleanup are in a response complete status, all structures being demolished.
On Sept.30, 2006, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of the city of St. Louis acquired 18 acres. The conveyance of this parcel, along with the transfer of three acres to the state of Missouri for Interstate 70 expansion, completed the conveyance of all St. Louis Army Ammunition Plant property.
The Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant was original located on 8,468 acres beside Caddo Lake in Harrison County, Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the site on the National Priorities List in 1990 and cleanup began in 1996.
The Army has been coordinating cleanup actions under the existing Federal Facilities Agreement with both the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and continues to work closely with the environmental regulators to resolve the remaining environmental issues. Of the 58 total environmental sites, all have remedies in place, and all but 17 are at response complete.
On Oct. 19, 2000, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved the establishment of the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. In 2004, the Army and FWS entered into a memorandum of agreement that set forth the transfer process of the former Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant acreage. Approximately 7,200 acres have been transferred from the Army to FWS for the Caddo Lake NWR, which has been opened to the public since September 2009.
All 6,439 acres of the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee have been sold or transferred. More than 5,000 acres were purchased by the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, enabling establishment of the Enterprise South Industrial Park. A total of 23 cleanup sites were identified and 21 are response complete. For the remaining two sites, the remedial action is in place. Long-term monitoring required for groundwater, asbestos burial pits, and landfills will remain an ongoing Army responsibility.
In 2010, a major automotive plant opened on 1,400 acres of the industrial park, and a large distribution center and a manufacturing plant that makes attachments such as buckets for heavy construction equipment was one of the early industrial park businesses. Another 2,900 acres were transferred to the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, providing land for the Enterprise South Nature Park.
Many more small businesses are located at the industrial park which has improved economic development opportunities in Chattanooga. According to the Chatanooga Chamber of Commerce, as of September 2020, 7,297 jobs have been created with an investment totaling $3.4 billion. Currently, there are only approximately 325 vacant acres that are being marketed for economic development purposes.
While some former Army ammunition plant lands were sold or transferred to other organizations, some remained with the Army. The former Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant is now called the Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center, an Ohio National Guard military base. The training site is located in Portage and Trumbull counties in Ohio. The installation consists of about 21,000 acres, all part of the former Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant. Today various small arms weapons ranges and permanent facilities support individual and collective training events for both weekend and annual training.
More than 1,500 acres of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant now is home to the Arden Hills Army Training Site, a military training area of the Minnesota National Guard and the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs. AHATS serves as a local training area for all military services, law enforcement and civilian agencies as well as environmental and wildlife conservation programs.
The community development and the Army cleanup continues at many of the former Army Ammunition Plants and the former Army land continues to provide economic, recreational, and residential development opportunities for the communities that once thrived on the job opportunities provided by the industrial facilities.