NEW MILFORD — Portions of the former Camp Grant Rifle Range are still at high risk for contaminating soil and water, according to a new analysis of Department of Defense documents by ProPublica.
While cleanup at sites that now make up large tracts of the Chicago Rockford International Airport was completed in 2005, areas that make up the Rockford Park District’s Seth Atwood Park along the Kishwaukee River are still under DOD review for groundwater and soil contaminants and unexploded munitions.
Lead contamination is high on the list of concerns for the former 312-acre shooting range, used by the U.S. Army in both World War I and World War II. According to the ProPublica report of DOD documents, groundwater near the area is at high risk via the river and pump wells located throughout the park. Lead levels have been found to be more than 10-times higher than the “action level” prescribed by federal law.
In addition, soil and sediment contamination from mercury, antimony, barium, manganese and lead have been found to exceed safe levels. The DOD commissioned its most recent report into the area in 2008.
Cleanup of the site has cost more than $6 million to date, with another $1.09 million expected to be spent by 2022, when DOD anticipates the former rifle range to be cleared. Monitoring of the site is expected to continue through 2051, as DOD says the “property is known or suspected to contain military munitions and explosives of concern (e.g., unexploded ordnance) and therefore may present an explosive hazard.”
Cleanup at the sites that are now portions of the airport was completed by DOD in June 2005 at a total cost of $469,000.
The Park District took control of the rifle range via quit claim deed in August 1956 under the guarantee that the land be used as a public park or recreational spaces for at least 20 years. The park opened to the public in 1957. Buildings from the former range are still accessible to the public throughout the grounds.
Soldiers first arrived at Camp Grant in June 1917, when it was the largest World War I military training facility in the Midwest. More than 1,000 soldiers died at the camp during the influenza outbreak of 1918.
The camp was reactivated for World War II in Oct. 1940, eventually seeing more than 100,000 medical personnel trained at its facilities, along with 2,500 POWs housed. Camp Grant was closed in 1946 and reported as excess to the General Services Administration in 1954. R.