Louisiana National Guard and Camp Minden officials are cooperating with Louisiana State Police (LSP) to ensure public safety after an October explosion on a Camp Minden lease launched an investigation.
"Camp Minden, Louisiana National Guard, Webster Sheriff's Department and all other entities have been extremely helpful in responding to the material being found on Explo's lease," said Trooper Matt Harris, Public Relations Officer for the Louisiana State Police. "As the investigation continues, everyone involved has handled the situation with professionalism and provided cooperation in making public safety our first priority."
What was originally estimated to be more than six million pounds of M6, an explosive propellant, now totals more than 10 million pounds. The material was found during a follow-up inspection of Explo Systems Inc, after a bunker containing black powder exploded, resulting in the investigation, which is still ongoing.
Entities worked together to separate and properly store as much material as possible to ensure public safety for the area outside of Camp Minden.
"Camp Minden provided the additional bunkers due to a public safety concern in concert with the LSP to reduce the immediate threat," said Lt. Col. Michael Kazmierzak, Louisiana National Guard Public Information Officer. "Louisiana State Police granted the Louisiana Military Department an exemption from state laws, which govern the storage of explosives – which permitted Explo to store (M6) in additional bunkers."
The town of Doyline was evacuated as Explo employees worked under the directions of Louisiana State Police to properly store the material.
Today, 75 percent, or 6.5 million pounds, of the material has been properly stored in magazines (bunkers) approved by the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. More than 3.5 million pounds still need to be placed in approved facilities.
"Decisions were made based on public safety and mitigating risk as quickly as possible," Kazmierzak said. "We opened up 21 additional bunkers that were available."
Explo leases 76 bunkers and all that were available are being utilized.
The LSP has stated Explo submitted a letter to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on January 23, requesting an exemption to the regulations pertaining to storage of non-defense material.
"The DOD's (Department of Defense) statement was since the material Explo was provided had been taken out of its original state (by being repackaged) it was now considered demilitarized material and was no longer their property," Capt. Taylor Moss of Louisiana State Police Emergency Services Unit said. "After the request was verbally denied, the DOD advised that request should be submitted by the state."
Louisiana National Guard Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis then submitted a request to the Secretary of Defense asking for an exemption to sub-section A of 10 U.S. Code 2692, which allows for the storage of M6 on a DOD installation.
"Louisiana Military Department made a request on behalf of the state of Louisiana because of the public safety risk," Kazmierzak said. "We have yet to receive a response to that request to the Secretary of Defense. We are operating on the assumption that the request is still being processed."
Camp Minden, which is not a DOD installation, belongs to the state of Louisiana and is under the care of the state Military Department.
According to figures Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton was given, Explo was under contract with the federal government to receive 400,000 pounds of product a year for $2.9 million dollars. Explo would then separate the M6 from the shell or casing it came in.
"This is a dollar issue," Sexton said. "After disassembling the product they received from the federal government, they sold what they could for scrap value. What is left is more propellant than the market has a demand for."
Moss has explained the LSP was advised by the DOD if Explo defaults on their ability to secure storage, the State of Louisiana would be responsible.
A waiver has been given to the Louisiana National Guard installation commander for an exemption for temporary storage of explosives.
"That means since it was on his base, and it was improperly stored material, he needed to have some means to cover himself," Moss said. "We provided that."
In addition to Explo and the Louisiana National Guard, the Louisiana State Police has also asked for assistance from the DOD.
"We made a request to DOD's contract agency (Defense Contract Management Agency) for certified personnel, equipment and certified storage locations," Moss said.
"That was a formal request from me to the DCMA for assistance and they never responded."