Residents seek Camp Wheeler cleanup information

More than 80 landowners attended a public drop-in meeting Wednesday at the Wilson Convention Center to learn more about an upcoming cleanup survey at Camp Wheeler and how it will affect their properties.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigation is the latest phase of an ongoing project “to identify the nature and extent of the contamination of munitions and explosives of concern, as well as munitions’ constituents and their chemical compositions,” said Chris Cochrane, technical manager for the project at the World War II-era training camp in Bibb and Twiggs counties.

More than 1,000 residents on approximately 11,500 acres will be touched by the survey, slated to begin in July.

Some of the munitions found on Camp Wheeler property during previous phases of cleanup range from small arms to 105 mm projectiles, according to information provided by the corps. The depth of detection is anticipated to be 1 to 48 inches.

Cochrane said it was important for corps technical experts, engineers, and munitions and ordnance contractors to hold the public meeting because residents continue to receive notifications about the investigation in the mail — and they continue to have questions.

“We have always tried to get the public information out there. We’ve tried really hard to keep this issue out in the forefront,” she said.

Residents also were given right of entry forms, which property owners must sign and return to the Army before surveyors can examine land for possible ordnance.

Ronny Drain, senior supervisor at RODT, the Tennessee-based contracting firm handling the land investigation, demonstrated a Schonstedt magnetic locator to residents.

The device is used to detect unexploded matter under the surface by producing varying sounds. Drain and other surveyors will track the sounds, marking locations in the ground with pin flags and on a Global Positioning System.

“If we find something — ordance — we’ll come back on a future date, digging will occur and we’ll blow it up right there in place,” Drain said.

Julie Hiscox, project manager for the Camp Wheeler investigation, said many residents Wednesday were concerned about the safety risks and health hazards of the investigation.

One Bibb County couple affected by the corps project said those concerns were among many they had.

Around 1999, Felicer Lewis and her husband, Rickey, purchased land on Frederick Drive to build their dream house.

About a week ago, she said, they learned for the past 10 years they’ve been living on a former shooting range.

“We’re here to check it out to see if our house is in danger and if our family is in danger,” Rickey Lewis said. “They’re might be explosives in the ground.”

“We’re told it’s the smaller impact area,” his wife said of the RO2 range, where fieldwork is planned between July 20 and August 9. “But my mind is still going a hundred miles a minute.

“It’s very disturbing to spend that much money on a house and then 10 years later, ‘Guess what?’”

Felicer Lewis said, with two growing children, she and her husband had started to think about moving to a larger home. They worry the Army project will halt those plans.

“It was on the mind,” she said. “I can only assume now it’s going to become even harder to put it on the market once all this becomes public knowledge.”

Meanwhile, she said the couple is holding off on signing the right of entry form.

“We’ve got a lot of unanswered questions,” she said.

Information from The Telegraph archives was used for this report.

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.