Army interested in Richardson expansion

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- After making inquiries about expanding Fort Richardson into a mountainous section of Chugach State Park, the Army is backing away due to a cool reception from state officials.

In recent weeks, military officials approached the state with the idea of expanding the Army post onto some 10,000 acres in the Chugach Mountains east of the city. The suggestion surprised state officials, who say they consider the area the heart of the park's wilderness.

The land remains in federal because of unexploded ordnance and other hazardous materials left over from Army tank training in the 1960s, according to the military and government officials.

The Bureau of Land Management, the agency that oversees conveyance of federal land to the state, can't convey the land to the state until the contamination is cleaned up. But there's never been a push to do that.

Last month, the Army requested an informal inquiry into taking over the parcel.

The state's informal response was no, state parks officials said.

Chugach Park superintendent Al Meiners said he learned of the Army's inquiry about two weeks ago. But in a meeting with base commanders on June 24, Meiners said, he was told that the Army's interest in the parcel stemmed only from its obligation to clean it up and not an interest in training there.

This week, an Army spokesman said it was unlikely the Army would pursue a request to withdraw the land for military use.

Army officials don't want to proceed if the state vehemently opposes the potential acquisition, said Maj. Ben Danner, spokesman for U.S. Army Alaska.

The Army this week realized the extent of the state's opposition to the military applying for the parcel, Danner said.

''We haven't closed the door on that possibility, but given all the recent developments we may close that door very soon,'' he said.

The garrison commander, Col. Fred Lehman, will make the final decision.

If the military did take over the parcel, the move would reduce the cost of cleanup and provide new training grounds. Under one scenario, the valley could someday contain a laser target range and maneuvers that involve helicopters dropping soldiers into the rugged mountains.

The big Ship Creek parcel isn't necessary for training in the near-term but, ''like an additional closet in your house,'' Danner said, it would be more convenient and add flexibility for future training needs.

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