Bazooka round dug up as Beale cleanup nears |

Bazooka round dug up as Beale cleanup nears

No one knows just how much unexploded firepower rests in the ground that spreads from Beale Air Force Base to Penn Valley.

But a new family south of Smartville quickly learned about the real danger of the antique weaponry on the Fourth of July, when their dog dug up a live, World War II bazooka round.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials used that story Tuesday to illustrate the importance of the Corps’ plan to find the ordnance and other military scrap on 62,000 acres that once served as the nation’s largest training ground for soldiers.

Soldiers bombed, shot and exploded many things there through the years, Corps spokesman Peter Broderick told the Nevada County Board of Supervisors in his update on the massive cleanup effort.

The removal of old ordnance will take years, Broderick said, and will start with a team taking readings on and below the ground to make a statistical analysis of how much may be there. The costs and plans of the cleanup will come from the analysis, Broderick said.

The 62,000 acres wrap around the north, west and south sides of today’s Beale Air Force Base. The area was assimilated back into private property after the old Camp Beale was closed. Gunnery and bombing ranges were all over the fort on both the Nevada and Yuba county sides, Broderick said.

After World War II, when the camp was initially swept for unexploded bombs and shells, “they found about 500 live rounds,” Broderick said, “and 400,000 pounds of scrap.”

Corps spokeswoman Mary Ann Parker said no known accidents have occurred since then in the old camp area, which surrounds the Spenceville Wildlife and Recreation Area. The 62,000 acres reach almost to Penn Valley in the northeast corner, just shy of Highway 20 on the north and all the way to Camp Far West Reservoir in the south.

“Almost all of the Yuba Highlands falls in this area,” Parker said. The Yuba Highlands is a proposed housing project where 5,100 homes for 13,000 people are planned between the base and Hammonton-Smartville Road.

That land cannot be certified for development until the ordnance is cleaned up. Yuba Highlands Developer Gary Gallelli last year told The Union he could hire a private firm to do the job for about $10 million.

Parker said there are about two to four calls annually from people on the 62,000 acres who find unexploded bombs, or part of them. Her office often dispatches Beale’s ordnance team to blow them up in place.

The Corps is currently contacting landowners about the project and asking their permission to enter the land for the ordnance survey. One of those contacts led to the report of the bazooka round, Parker said.

People will have the right to bar Corps-hired crews from surveying their property, Broderick said. All safety precautions will be taken and only potential unexploded ordnance will be excavated.

“This is a sample exercise, not a sweep,” Broderick said. “Property owners will be notified if we find anything and asked to move to safety.”

Anyone who lives in the area who thinks they have found unexploded ordnance should practice the three R’s, Broderick said: Recognize, retreat and report to 911.

To find out more about the project, call Broderick at (916) 557-7430.

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