Is proposed housing project explosive? |

Is proposed housing project explosive?

The Union graphicProposed Yuba Highlands
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Could Yuba Highlands be an explosive new development?

Roseville developer Gary Gallelli proposes building the 13,000-resident, 5,100-home “new town” on 2,900 acres east of Beale Air Force Base.

The land is part of the former Camp Beale, an 87,000-acre, World War II-era Army Base that is targeted for a $200 million, multi-year search for unexploded weapons.

The California Environmental Protection Agency is waving a red flag at the plan, and a Nevada County environmentalist also has concerns.

But the developer points out that no one has ever been injured by old weapons at the former Camp Beale.

Karol Ward, the Army Corps of Engineers official in charge of the $200 million search for unexploded ordnance, said “there are bombing ranges and target ranges in that area.”

But “I don’t know how big the risk is,” she said, because the only information is based on old records. The Corps hasn’t actually searched the area with metal detectors to get an idea of whether any ordnance is still there.

“To exactly know how much is left, we have to go out and do sampling,” she said.

Ed Walker, an official with Cal-EPA, sent a letter to Yuba County last month warning that, “If OE (ordnance and explosives) is mishandled or if appropriate safeguards are not in place, there is a potential for tragic results to occur.”

But Gallelli said, “There’s been cattle grazing on most of these areas … since the end of World War II … My 1,200-pound cows, if there were any mine fields, they probably would have blown up by now.”

“If it’s as dangerous as they’re talking about, should the public be using Spenceville Wildlife Area?” asked Gallelli. He said he’ll allow the Army Corps onto the land to search for ordnance. Gallelli thinks any problem could be cleaned up in the five- to six-year period before houses would be built.

The South Yuba River Citizens League opposes the Yuba Highlands project as it’s now proposed, said SYRCL’s attorney, J. Todd Hutchins.

“Unexploded ordnance, I think, is a real problem,” said Hutchins, who said he’s spoken with area residents who “come across, with some regularity, unexploded ordnance.”

The project’s environmental impact report should be complete in January and will then be open for public comment and meetings, Gallelli said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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