USFK: Total of 33,000 acres to be returned to South Korea
July 16, 2006
SEOUL — U.S. Forces Korea expects to return 59 camps totaling 33,000 acres of land and valued at more than $1 billion to South Korea’s government in the next two to four years, the USFK command announced early Friday evening.
According to a USFK news release, command officials want to explain the camp return process following a week that saw “many inaccurate and misleading articles and editorials in various Internet and print media sources.”
USFK has closed more than two dozen bases as part of a plan to consolidate most of its forces at Camp Humphreys. Over the past 19 months, the South Korean government agreed to accept just seven of those bases, citing unacceptable pollution levels at the others.
Friday’s USFK release stated that those delays result in lost economic opportunities for the South Korean people and cost U.S. taxpayers more than $400,000 a month to guard closed bases. Neither USFK nor South Korean government officials would comment on news reports early last week that the United States was going to stop guarding those bases this month.
The issue with the delays is the environmental cleanup of the bases before return.
Under the status of forces agreement, the United States is “not obliged … to restore the facilities and areas to the condition they were at the time they became available to the U.S. armed forces, or to compensate the government of the ROK in lieu of such restoration,” according to the Friday news release.
In return, South Korea gets the land for free and doesn’t have to pay the United States for any capital improvements — such as buildings and other infrastructure.
“The end state to this is that the ROK not only receives its land for its use, it receives the utility of billions of dollars of U.S. investment over the years free, at the expense of the American taxpayer,” according to the release. “This is a very, very good deal for the people of the Republic of Korea.”
There is an attempt by “some to negate the SOFA agreement as it relates to camp returns” and to introduce new environmental standards, according to the release.
The release states that U.S. policy requires USFK to remedy “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments” to human health and safety.
But USFK has agreed to go above those standards by pulling out selected underground fuel storage tanks, removing heavy metal contamination from firing ranges and hiring a South Korean company to run a high-vacuum pump system that targets groundwater fuel contamination at five camps, according to the release.