Parsons Sun, January 3, 2012
Brick by brick, chunk by chunk, a piece of Kansas Army Ammunition Plant history came down Monday.
Gator Demolition of Joplin, a subcontractor for Matrix Environmental Services, Denver, used an excavator to knock away walls, floors and roofing from the melt-pour tower of Building 905 in the 900 area, where TNT was melted and eventually poured into mortar shells in years past.
The building, too contaminated to clean up and reuse, was destroyed instead while the Great Plains Development Authority works to bring industry to the new Great Plains Industrial Park, according to Dan Goddard, GPDA executive director. Day & Zimmermann Inc., which manufactured munitions at the plant even after it was placed on an Army closure list in 2005, retains three melt-pour towers on what it hopes will be its portion of the industrial park.
The plant was listed on the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list in May 2005 as part of the military’s downsizing. Day & Zimmermann, the long time contract munitions manufacturer at the plant, is negotiating with the Army to buy a 4,000 acre parcel to continue production.
At the time of the BRAC announcement, the plant contained 13,727 acres. The GPDA, which owns 600 acres on the grounds, was formed under Department of Defense guidelines to acquire the bulk of the property for a mega-site industrial park. The total property contains 33 miles of rail, 106 miles of road, its own water and wastewater operations and other amenities that make it ideal for industrial operations.
Since BRAC, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism purchased 3,000 acres, renaming the parcel Grand Osage Wildlife Area. Access there remains restricted as explosive remediation efforts are conducted on adjacent land. GPDA is in the final days of negotiations to purchase the remaining 6,100 acres. The 67,000 square-foot administration building will be sold separately.
TNT was used as an explosive in mortars and missiles produced at the plant for nearly 70 years under contract through the Department of Defense until final production ended in December 2009, Goddard said in a prepared statement. Flakes of the yellow-gold explosive were poured into melting kettles and became liquid at 176 degrees. Liquid TNT was poured into casings, where it cooled and became a solid again.
Boilers created the steam used to melt the TNT. The three-story melt-pour tower was not heated or air conditioned, so temperatures were never comfortable inside for the workers.
“It was a very, very hot operation,” Goddard said Monday. “It got pretty hot up in there.”
The air inside was humid from the steam and temperatures reached close to 100 degrees or higher in the summer time.
Escape slides had been removed from the higher windows in the tower, but a building nearby, called the shaker building, where TNT was screened for foreign material, still had an escape slide from a window.
According to historic data the maximum number of people working at the plant during one day was 7,358 during World War II. During the Vietnam War, nearly 4,000 people were employed and as recently as the Gulf War more than 1,300 drove in from as far as 70 miles away.
Day & Zimmermann still has about 90 employees doing work in a limited capacity as it rebuilds its operation as a private-bid company.
Remediation of the plant has been ongoing for nearly 20 years, Goddard said, however the BRAC announcement intensified those efforts.
GPDA was awarded an Environmental Services Cooperative Agreement by the Army for $4.8 million in 2010 that includes the current demolition project and others.