Minden Press-Herald

Sep 30th

Aid pledged in Explo mess

LANDRIEU MARYMore than six months after an investigation began of Explo Systems Inc.'s operations at Camp Minden, help from the federal government is finally being offered by way of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.

Police Jury President Jim Bonsall, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Jackson, Bossier Parish Police Jury Administrator Bill Altimus and President Jimmy Cochran recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. where they voiced their concerns to elected officials, the United States Army and others.

"We went because the product at Camp Minden is sitting still," Bonsall said at a Webster Parish Police Jury meeting earlier this week. "Everyone is trying to blame someone else. We want it gone so economic development can continue and the area will be safe."

Currently some 75 percent, or 6.5 million pounds, of M6 explosive propellant has been properly stored in approved magazines. A remaining 3.5 million pounds is being stored in other non-approved buildings on Camp Minden.

The material was found during a November follow-up inspection of Explo Systems Inc. after a bunker containing black powder exploded in October, resulting in an investigation being conducted by the Louisiana State Police.

While a lawsuit is not currently pending, Bonsall let the jury know the situation is not being neglected.

Congressman John Fleming, Senator David Vitter and Senator Landrieu each gave audience to the group.

"Senator Vitter was not as up on the facts as he should have been," Bonsall said. "I think now that he realizes how serious it is, he should try and help us.

"When we met with Fleming, he did not offer a lot of help at that time," Bonsall continued. "He wanted to review what was going on and decide if he could help us."

However, Bonsall said the last meeting with Landrieu and Army Assistant Secretary Hershell Wolf was very productive.

"Landrieu was a big part of getting Camp Minden from the federal government to state ownership," Bonsall said. "She was very concerned and has a personal stake in it.

"She said 'I don't know whose fault this is, the Army will help with this and we will figure out how to pay for it. We will get it resolved,'" Bonsall continued. "She impressed me."

Bonsall believes the trip was important to the progress of clean up efforts.

"The estimation on how much it will cost to clean up is astronomical," he said. "This trip helped to further getting things back on track."

During the jury meeting, several jurors expressed concerns about the long investigation and the lack of charges.

"There are reasons there has not been a charge filed yet," Bonsall continued. "It is in the opinion of the higher ups, that Explo is on the verge of failing."

Investigators have been advised by the Department of Defense that if Explo defaults on their ability to secure storage or with clean up efforts, the State of Louisiana would be responsible.

Bonsall also noted Explo has more people licensed to handle the material than the state does and pressing charges at this time may interfere with clean-up efforts.

"There is still a lot of product to move if a place can be found to put it," he said. "They are the best ones to move it."

After the material was found, several entities worked together to separate and properly store as much material as possible to ensure public safety for the area outside of Camp Minden.

The town of Doyline was evacuated for a week as Explo employees worked under the directions of Louisiana State Police to properly store the material.

More than 3.5 million pounds still need to be placed in approved facilities.

Camp Minden, which is not a DOD installation, belongs to the state of Louisiana and is under the care of the Louisiana State Military Department.
Reportedly, 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 its shell or casing.






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