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Dugway seeks to obtain more land

Base officials are not saying how much expansion — or why

Dugway Proving Ground, one of America's largest military bases, has been thinking about growing even larger.

It's unclear whether the project is the revival of a 1988 Dugway effort to obtain a swath of public land 23 miles wide by 3 miles long, where chemical and conventional weapons contamination occurred. But what is certain is that two other projects besides the expansion show the military wants stronger action to protect the public from leftover ordinance.

Officials of Dugway — the bigger-than-Rhode Island base sprawling across much of Utah's western desert — aren't saying how much they would like it to expand or even why.

"Dugway has requested permission to study the possibility of increasing the size of Dugway's training and testing ranges," says a base statement prepared in response to a Deseret Morning News question. Dugway officials made the request to their parent organization, the Army Developmental and Test Command, headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

"We have not received permission to do this yet," the statement adds.

According to one source, the latest round of discussions about Dugway expansion may have begun about a year ago.

Reaching to within 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Dugway is where the Army carries out research on ways to protect against biological or chemical attack. It also hosts conventional weapons training.

In addition, the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) is located in two huge tracts, the southern one adjacent to Dugway.

Although Dugway no longer tests offensive chemical weapons, decades ago open-air experiments with nerve and mustard agent were carried out there. Some material went off-base, according to reports.

In 1988, Dugway attempted to obtain a swath of Bureau of Land Management property the size of Washington, D.C. A Deseret Morning News report noted that unexploded ordinance containing high explosives or chemicals likely contaminated that region.

Yet the Yellow Jacket and Southern Triangle areas on BLM land were open to hikers, rockhounds and all-terrain vehicle users, the paper noted.

That proposed land acquisition apparently did not succeed, as little further information is available about the attempt in newspaper files.

The latest effort also involves BLM land.

"I have heard that there is informal discussion going on," said Dave Murphy, assistant manager for the BLM's Salt Lake Field Office. He has heard of "exploratory discussions between Dugway and our office."

Asked how much was involved, Murphy replied that he did not "have a clue how much acreage they're interested in." The field manager was not available on Wednesday.

Two other projects indicate the military is working to increase security, to protect members of the public who might hike or drive into the region.

A cleanup of "scrap metal" resulting from World War II training and bombing activities is planned for land that surrounds "the military reservations in Tooele and Box Elder Counties," says a notice posted on the BLM's Salt Lake Field Office electronic bulletin board.

The BLM contact listed for the cleanup project could not be reached Wednesday. Military reservations abutting BLM land in this region are the two UTTR sections and Dugway.

Warning signs are in the works for the UTTR. This involves the UTTR southern area, south of I-80. Nearby is an area called Knolls, which has extensive sand dunes that are popular with recreationists.

A signing project is planned for public land adjacent to this part of the UTTR, on the west side of the Cedar Mountains, according to a BLM notice. The project would "warn off-highway vehicle users of the dangers of unexploded ordnance and the boundary of the U.S. Air Force range."

The boundary between BLM land and the training range runs through sand dunes, said the BLM's Mandy Rigby. Fencing dunes is a difficult procedure, she said.

There have been instances where people have driven all-terrain vehicles in the sand dunes and have gone into the bombing range, she said.

Eighteen signs will be erected on BLM land warning that the Air Force boundary is nearby and that people should not trespass, she said. The signs also will tell of the danger of picking up unexploded ordnance.

The signs have been made and will be put up soon, she said.

They will be erected every quarter-mile along a key route heading toward the test range, Rigby said.

Lt. Rob Goza, spokesman for Hill Air Force Base, which controls the test range, said a meeting is scheduled today to discuss where to place the signs.

"Obviously, the purpose is to keep people from straying into the UTTR," he said.

Contributing: Lee Davidson.