Authorities say they have run out of bunker space at a Louisiana military base for some of the millions of pounds explosives that caused a town’s evacuation after the material was found haphazardly stored at an explosives recycling company.
Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton said Thursday that authorities are searching for more bunker space to store the military explosives that the company was hired to demilitarize.
He said the material may have to be moved out of state.
Authorities have already moved more 6 million pounds of explosives, much of it into bunkers at Camp Minden, a Louisiana National Guard base, following an explosion in October triggered an investigation of Explo Systems Inc.
Explo Systems rents space at the sprawling base for its business and had a contract with the Army to demilitarize a military propellant called M6, which is used for artillery rounds.
The nearby town of Doyline was evacuated for about a week in December because authorizes feared any explosion could trigger a massive chain reaction blast.
State Police spokesman Matt Harris said Thursday that officials don’t want to speculate on how much more material needs a proper storage facility, but there’s enough that more bunkers are needed.
Sexton said the remaining material could still be packaged for sale, which authorities are encouraging. Any material the company sells is less that Louisiana officials will have to deal with.
“Weather has been a factor, but space is the No. 1 factor,” Sexton said.
When authorities found what they consider improperly stored material, some of it was in boxes stacked in buildings with other boxes packed into long corridors that connect those buildings.
Authorities feared that ignition of any of the propellant could cause a chain reaction that would race through the corridors and blow up multiple buildings, threatening Doyline and its 800 residents. The town’s voluntary evacuation order in December kept children out of school and sent some people to live at camp sites in a nearby state park.
More of the material was found outside among trees and appeared to have been “hidden,” State Police spokeswoman Julie Lewis has said. Some of the containers were spilling open.
Lt. Col. Michael Kazmierzak, a Louisiana National Guard spokesman, has said Explo officials asked early last year to lease more space at the base but the request was turned down because the company was roughly $400,000 behind on rent. He said the company never again brought up the need for more space, but worked out a plan to pay back rent.
Explo Systems officials haven’t responded to numerous messages since the investigation began. An attorney who represented the company in the past declined to comment when a reporter visited his office in Shreveport.
The Army awarded Explo Systems a contract in 2010 to demilitarize hundreds of thousands of propelling charges for artillery rounds. The contract was for $2.9 million with options for renewal for four years. The contract called for the demilitarization of as many as 450,000 propelling charges per year.
Demilitarizing explosives generally entails changing a device or chemical in a way that it can’t be used for its originally intended purposes.
Stephen Abney, a spokesman for the Army’s Joint Munitions Command, has said Explo requested on Nov. 27 that the government hold all shipments because Louisiana authorities would not allow them to receive it until inspections and investigations have been completed.
This isn’t the first time the company has come under scrutiny.
A series of at least 10 explosions at the facility in 2006 caused an evacuation of Doyline.
The company also came under scrutiny in West Virginia where it was using an old military explosive called tetryl in mountaintop removal mining for Catenary Coal Co. in 2006 and 2007, according to documents reviewed by AP. A February 2007 blast injured one worker and exposed others to toxins, authorities said. Some of the tetryl dated back to 1940.
Explo had a contract to use the material for mining operations for the Catenary Coal Company in Eskdale, W.V., according to documents that AP obtained from the Army through a public records request.
That Army contract required the company to “comply with all applicable Federal, State, and local safety regulations and requirements” for the handling and disposal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of “various artillery boosters and fuze components.”
But The Mine Safety and Health Administration said in report dated April 3, 2007, that Explo Systems “displayed a reckless disregard for the health and safety of miners and by giving no consideration to the mining laws applicable to these activities.”
Explo Systems, which was registered in Louisiana in 2001, has made millions from contracts with the military. In 2011, the company listed its annual revenue as $3 million with 70 employees, according to the Federal Procurement Data System.