BATON ROUGE — North Louisiana lawmakers said Thursday they're encouraged by a proposal to incinerate 16 million pounds of military propellant stranded at Camp Minden, hoping they've found a solution to dispose of the dangerous material discovered more than a year ago.
Businesses in the region have devised an idea to use a special type of incinerator for controlled burns of the propellant. The exhaust would be chemically treated during the burn to avoid large plumes of black smoke and other materials shooting into the air.
"This is a solution that can be done by people in Louisiana and apparently can be much better than anything else we've seen," Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. Adley's district contains Camp Minden.
Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, head of the Louisiana National Guard, told lawmakers that attempts to sell the propellant stalled because of liability concerns. Curtis said some sort of burning was the best option to rid the Guard base east of Shreveport of the material.
Authorities found the propellant a year ago, saying Explo Systems Inc. haphazardly and improperly stored the material. State officials moved the propellant, which is used in artillery shells, into safer storage while trying to find a way to get rid of it.
Before the incineration could begin, however, Curtis said the proposal will need approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Also, the state hasn't identified any money to pay for the disposal cost.
Estimates of the cost range from $18 million to $22 million.
"For the Louisiana National Guard to execute a contract, we've got to come up with a funding stream," Curtis said. "We think the Army owns the problem."
Explo was leasing space at Camp Minden for a federal military contract to separate military propellant bags and resell the components. But Curtis said the U.S. Department of Defense has rejected state requests for assistance to remove the material.
Sen. Sherri Cheek Buffington, chair of the homeland security committee, said the incineration option was more appealing than an open burn that could frighten people in the area and raise environmental concerns.
Buffington, R-Keithville, praised an idea put forward by companies that work in the Minden area, including businesses with a background in dealing with explosives: Madden Contracting Company, Expal USA and American Strategic Innovation.
Madden Contracting owner James Madden said the companies can adopt a concept used in other construction work, to create an "environmentally controlled incinerator disposal unit." Estimates are the incineration could take 12 to 18 months.
An explosion in October 2012 led to an investigation at Camp Minden, in which a Louisiana State Police investigator discovered the improperly stored propellant, leading to the evacuation of nearby Doyline. Since then, state officials say the material has been moved to 97 secure sites at Camp Minden and is safely stored.
Executives of Explo Systems Inc. were indicted on felony charges related to the storage of the materials. At least two people have pleaded guilty.