The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is beginning a preliminary investigation into the Kingsley Firing Range Annex on Old Fort Road just outside of Klamath Falls.
There is a possibility of live military munitions buried on the site, including ammunition, rockets and bombs, posing possible contamination and explosive hazards.
Efforts to clean up the area have been ongoing since 2003. The Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality have all been involved in the effort.
The EPA declared the area a Superfund site in 2011, giving the agency more control and more funds over the area.
This came after 2003 investigations found asbestos in the North Ridge Estates area from improper demolition of an old World War II Marine barracks.
Between 2016 and 2018, the EPA removed 360,000 cubic yards of asbestos- contaminated materials.
Now, the Corps is beginning the initial investigation into an adjacent site, the Kingsley Firing Range Annex.
Officials warn that there could be live explosives and contaminants at the site. Officials have known of the risk of explosives at the site since at least 1995, when the Corps surveyed the site.
According to an H&N report, the DEQ held a meeting in Klamath Falls to inform the public about the dangers of asbestos and possible explosives on the site in 2003.
The Corps will be investigating the site for hazards beginning late this month, and is expected to be on the site for about six weeks.
Report not due till 2022
Mark MacIntyre, Region 10 media liaison for the EPA, explained that the Corps is conducting the initial investigation to determine the potential danger at the site. After the initial investigation is completed, a report will be made, which MacIntyre estimated would likely be completed around 2022.
According to MacIntyre, there is still a ways to go for the project.
“That’s sort of the end of the beginning not the beginning of the end,” he said.
MacIntyre said the EPA and Corps will then work together on additional testing, and a plan will be finalized for the cleanup effort. The EPA will likely take over for the cleanup.
“It’ll probably be us and our contractors, who are actually doing any kind of removal that needs to be done after we do the sampling and see what those samples tell us,” he said.
According to records from the EPA and Corps, the area has a complicated history.
The barracks history
A 734-acre piece of land on Old Fort Road, four miles from downtown Klamath Falls, was used as a U.S. Marine Corps Barracks for two years, from 1944 to 1946.
The base was used to treat Marines and Navy personnel suffering from tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes during WWII, such as malaria, filariasis and elephantiasis.
The site was a rejuvenation camp more than a hospital. Patients ate large meals and exercised. It was mainly to treat psychological fears associated with filariasis, which was feared to cause sterility, according to a 2013 H&N report by Lee Juillerat.
The program was discontinued when the war ended in 1946.
According to EPA records, the barracks consisted of 82 buildings and 30 barracks.
A year after the war ended and the site was abandoned, Oregon Vocational School was established and used the site. One year after that the school was renamed Oregon Technical Institute.
Oregon Tech moved to its current location in Klamath Falls in 1964, abandoning the barracks site.
The firing range
The Kingsley Firing Range Annex was created in 1944, and was a 46.34-acre portion of the Marine barracks site. It was controlled by the Marines and the Oregon Air National Guard.
The U.S. Air Force requested to use the annex after Oregon Tech vacated the area in 1965. The Air Force purchased an additional 160 acres, bringing the site up to 206.34 acres. It was used by the Air Force for 10 years before it was turned over to the U.S. Department of Interior in 1975.
Interior sold the land to private individuals in 1976. Portions of the firing range are still owned by private individuals today.
The Range consists of three sub-ranges.
Rifle Range — the Marines used this area from 1944 to 1947. The Air Force expanded this range and used it between 1965 and 1975 for small arms practice. The archives search report team in the Corps assumes that standard weapons of the time period were used there. That includes .30-caliber and .45-caliber weapons.
Rocket Range — The Army National Guard used this area from 1965 to 1975 for rocket practice. Corps records indicate that practice rockets were used at the site, and inert warhead type rockets were fired at an old vehicle.
Disposal Range — This area was used between the years of 1965 and 1975. The Corps report from 2008 indicates that there is no record of what was disposed at the range. There are two open burn/open detonation pits on in the range.
The report states that there are some reports that the pits could have been used to dispose of explosives.
Also, documents from 1995 reported finding burned small arm casings, ejection cartridges for aircraft pylons, ammunition clips, and the empty rear casing of a practice bomb. The empty base from an “old-style” bomb was also found in one of the pits, according to the report.
According to the Corps, the site has potential explosive hazard.
“Historical research and site inspections indicate that military munitions were potentially used at this range, and some munitions may remain on the property,” said an informational pamphlet.
The Corps advises exercising caution in the area. The informational pamphlet tells anyone who thinks they have come across a military munition to retreat immediately and call 911.
According to Corps public relations liaison David Kolerik, there are no residences on the actual site of the firing range. The area being investigated extends much farther than the original location of the firing range, however.
“There are a few residences located adjacent to where munitions response investigation work will be conducted. At this time, no impact is expected to their immediate living area,” he said.
Kolerik said the owners of properties in the investigation site have been informed about the investigation.