Town hall meeting has few answers
Elected officials will be traveling to Baton Rouge for a Homeland Security Committee meeting Thursday, where they will share information regarding improperly stored material at an Explo System Inc. lease.
District 10 state Rep. Gene Reynolds hosted a town hall meeting in Doyline Monday night to update the community and hear concerns and suggestions from citizens.
"This is some of the same information that will be said in the in the Homeland Security committee meeting Thursday," Reynolds told the audience of around 100 people last night. "From a political standpoint, we want to do what we can to make sure something like this doesn't happen again," he continued. "We want to hear what your concerns are and what you have to say, so that operations like this are safe."
Reynolds gathered representatives from entities involved in the events that led to the town's weeklong evacuation, caused by what is now estimated at 10 million pounds of Explo's improperly stored M6, an explosive propellant, at Camp Minden.
"Two-and-a-half months ago we were all here talking about evacuations and the tremendous amount of product that was found," Reynolds said told the group. "All of our local entities went to work to make sure you were safe and to move the material to a place where it would not be harmful to the general public. They have done a wonderful job of taking care of this and taking care of the job at hand."
State Rep. Henry Burns, Sen. Barrow Peacock, and Rep. Jeff Thompson – who serves on the Homeland Security Committee – were present at the meeting.
The Explo investigation also has the attention of several involved entities including the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office (WPSO), Louisiana National Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal and Enforcement division, Department of Defense's (DOD), program executive officers of Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), Joint Munitions Command, Defense Criminal Investigation Services (DCIS) and Army Criminal Investigation Command, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), U.S. Attorney's office and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Capt. Taylor Moss of Louisiana State Police Emergency Services Unit gave meeting attendees background information on what events have occurred over the past several months.
October 15: "Major explosion" of black powder at an Explo bunker located on leased property at Camp Minden. Situation was remediated and was not a threat.
November 26: Louisiana State Police (LSP) returned to Explo's lease property to look at their operating process to determine if Explo was operating correctly. During that follow-up investigation, Louisiana State Police exited a back door during a tour and explanation of operating procedure.
"He saw pallets upon pallets of M6 propellant," Moss said.
November 27: A search warrant was obtained by LSP and the site was secured.
November 29: A waiver was 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 they were improperly stored material, he needed to have some means to cover himself," Moss said. "We provided that.
"At this time we had no idea how much material it was," he continued. "We estimated at maybe six or seven million pounds. Now that we have been able to store approximately 75 percent of it, it looks like it will be about 10 million pounds. Again, that is a rough estimate."
LSP has since secured about 6.5 million pounds and have and estimated 3.5 million pounds remaining.
November 30: A 7,300-foot perimeter around the propellant was established.
"The perimeter was based on the material – what would happen if it was to ignite," Moss said. "This is why the city of Doyline was affected.
"What we attempted to do was make smaller piles, which would mean the area affected would be reduced," he continued. "We were able to do that, and it took us seven days. We know many of you were put out of your homes an inconvienced, but we appreciate your cooperation as we secured the material."
December 1: LSP began moving that material.
December 7: LSP reduced the affected area and Doyline residents were cleared to return to their homes.
December 12: LSP requested expertise and equipment from the Department of Defense, to help determine the stability of the material after being exposed to the elements for an unknown amount of time.
"When the material is made, another material is included to make sure that it maintains its stability," Moss said. "But we didn't know what effect the weather or elements had on it, so that is why we had it tested."
December 18 through February 5: The product was tested.
"All those tests came back stable, and the product has maintained its original condition," said Moss.
December 21: LSP made a request to DOD's contract agency (DCMA) for certified personnel, equipment and certified storage locations.
"We realized at that time we would run out of the ability to house the material properly," Moss said. "After we asked for that, we never received a response. That was a formal request from me to the DCMA for assistance and they never responded."
January 6: Storage facilities, or magazines/ bunkers, were exhausted, leaving 3.5 million pounds of M6 in an unapproved location.
"We used every magazine available to us. In addition to the magazines leased by Explo," Moss said. "Twenty two magazines from the Louisiana National Guard were secured to store the material."
January 7: Explo searched outside of Camp Minden in an attempt to secure other locations for storage including Red River Army Depot, Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, Milan Ammunition Plant and McAlester Ammunition Plant. They were unable to secure space.
January 10: LSP, EPA, DCIS, ATF, FBI and WPSO met with Bossier-Webster District Attorney Schuyler Marvin and a representative from th U.S. Attorney's office in Shreveport and provided a status update.
January 23: Explo submitted a letter to the Office of the Secretary of Defense requesting an exemption to the regulations pertaining to storage of non-defense material.
"The DOD's statement was since the material Explo was provided had been taken out of its original state (by being repackaged) it was now considered demilitarized ammunition or material and was no longer their property," Moss said. "This request was verbally denied, and Explo nor the Louisiana State Police ever received anything in writing.
"The DOD did advise that request should be submitted by the state," Moss continued. "Maj. Gen. (Glenn) Curtis submitted a request to the Secretary of Defense (Leon) Panetta asking for that exemption. We were told that all resources from the state had to be exhausted, meaning that all of our options had to be at least visited or exhausted before anyone from the DOD would assist us."
February 5: LSP was advised by DOD that if Explo defaults on their ability to secure the storage, the State of Louisiana would be responsible.
Curtis submitted a memorandum to Panetta advising that all resources had been exhausted and a request for an exemption to transport and store the material was requested.
"We have never received anything back from the Secretary of Defense after that was sent," Moss said.
Moss said he hopes Thursday's Homeland Security Committee meeting will help the situation move forward.