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With discovery of grenade, Camp Beale’s explosive history remains

Airmen with the 9th Civil Engineer Squadron make measurements to build an explosive for a training exercise at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., on July 19, 2017.

LAUREN PARSONS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By NICKI SCHEDLER | (Marysville, Calif.) Appeal-Democrat | Published: March 1, 2020

MARYSVILLE, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The recent discovery of a grenade in the backyard of a Wheatland resident reminds the community that the legacy of Camp Beale continues today. It wasn’t the first such incident. Beale Air Force base has a history with explosives from when the facility was the site of former Camp Beale from 1942 to 1947. During World War II, Camp Beale comprised 86,000 acres situated 10 miles east of Marysville and east and north of the current base. The base was used as a training facility for the U.S. Army, including a bombing and gunnery range.

After the war, about 60,000 acres of the former camp was sold as private property and open land space, with the remaining acreage constituting the current Air Force base. Cleanup efforts have been in place for the past two decades to identify and remove stray munitions that remain from the former camp.

On Feb. 21, a Wheatland resident found a grenade while digging a garden in his backyard. The Beale explosive ordnance disposal unit responded and detonated the grenade at the explosive ordnance disposal range at Beale AFB.

Master Sergeant Mark Brady from the Beale EOD unit said in an email that on February 22, the EOD searched the backyard of the resident and found it clear of any other items.

“The grenade was a military MK2; however, given its age and the fact that it was partially encased in clay we cannot absolutely state how it came to be in Wheatland,” Brady said in an email. “We do not believe the grenade is related to Camp Beale training or other Beale related activity.”

There have been other cases in recent years in which homeowners found grenades and other materials around the area:

• In 2017, more than 100 hand grenades were found in a gully in south Sutter County, according to previous Appeal-Democrat reports. Of the 113 grenades recovered by the Beale Air Force Base’s Explosive Ordnance Demolition Team, three appeared to be live. The grenades were transported to the base for destruction.

• While cleaning up Beale’s Coyote Run Golf Course in 2014, a team from the Environmental Restoration Program at Beale Air Force Base found nine live hand grenades at the former hand grenade training site, according to previous Appeal-Democrat reports.

• In 2007, a grenade was found under a chicken coop at a Meridian home. The Beale Air Force Base’s Explosive Ordnance Demolition Team was called to retrieve the device, which had been dropped off at the Meridian fire station.

- Camp Beale Cleanup

Camp Beale was established as a Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) in 1991, a federal designation that allowed the Sacramento branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start a cleanup process.

The Corps has spent the past two decades working to clean up and remove contaminants, munitions and other materials from the 62,550-acre former camp. Investigating former Camp Beale sites involves conducting drone flyovers, ground searches and requesting rights of entry to search on private property.

Tim Crummett, a project manager for the Sacramento Corps branch and manager for the Camp Beale military munitions cleanup, said there are about 1,200 private landowners on the former Camp Beale, and the remaining acreage is unincorporated land.

He said two munitions items were found in 2019: The first was a 105 mm high-explosive projectile found in the Spenceville Wildlife Area on Jan 9.

The second munition, found March 4, was a 37 mm high-explosive projectile found on private property, on the western edge of Camp Beale near Beale AFB. Crummett said both munitions items were detonated on site.

According to a Corps fact sheet, a 2007 survey found that approximately 24,382 acres of the 62,550-acre property required additional investigation due to concern about the presence of munitions and explosives.

The Corps also noted that an area of the former Camp Beale known as MRS03, Southwest Combined Use Area has been identified as having potential explosive hazards. The MRS03 project area comprises 7,725 acres and is used for agricultural, residential and wildlife preservation purposes.

Crummett said he estimates it will be at least 20 years before the entire site is addressed and cleanup efforts are finished. That time frame is affected by funding from Congress, which he said funds higher-risk projects first.

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