Chemical weapons site to become national wildlife refuge

Officials with the U.S Army have finalized a deal that will transform what was once the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, which produced nerve gas and chemical weapons, into a national wildlife refuge.

Last week, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Hew Wolfe, the acting deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Army, signed a document that turned the 25-square-mile land parcel over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the refuge, the Washington Post reports.

“The deal is done,” Salazar told reporters during the ceremony last Friday, according to the Washington Post.

In 1942, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, landowners agreed to give up their lands so that the U.S. Army could produce chemical weapons at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal site, which had previously been farm land. The arsenal continued operations through both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Land was also leased to private companies, including Shell Oil Co., which made pesticides there until 1982.

In 1983, Colorado filed a lawsuit alleging that the Army and Shell had damaged its natural resources. The land became a Superfund site in 1987. Eventually, Colorado negotiated a settlement in which Shell and the Army gave the state approximately $27.4 million, plus 100 acres north of the arsenal for conservation, according to the Washington Post.

Charlie Scharmann, a U.S. Army program manager for the arsenal, told the Washington Post that the $2.1 billion cleanup will be done about a year ahead of schedule and under budget in November, after workers remove two water treatment plants that are no longer needed. During the cleanup, sarin bombs and the chemical agent lewisite were found at the site.

Officials said a $7.4 million visitors center, funded in part with stimulus money, should be complete next year, according to the Washington Post.