2010 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Mon, 6 Dec 2010 16:21:24 -0800 (PST)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] NATURAL RESOURCES, CLOSURE: "Newport Chemical Depot [IN] Tallgrass Prairie in Jeopardy"

Phil Cox
Nature News & Notes (Wabash Valley Audubon Society) (IN)
December/January 2010-2011

The Newport Chemical Depot (NECD) is a U.S. Army installation that was originally established as the Wabash River Ordnance Works (WROW) in 1941. Previously, the installation has also officially been called the Newport Army Ammunition Plant (NAAP) and Newport Chemical Activity (NECA). NECD is in a unique approximately 7,100 acre area of west central Indiana. NECD is located in Vermillion County between two natural regions of west central Indiana climate - the Grand Prairie and the Central Till Plain. The Grand Prairie is characterized by its dark and fertile soils and the Central Till Plain is known for its nearly flat to gently rolling landscape. The Depot lies along the boundary between the Grand Prairie and Entrenched Valley Sections. The Wabash River dominates the area where these regions meet; however, the boundary is not well defined, but rather a mosaic of bluestem prairie and oak-hickory forest. This edge effect has increased the diversity of flora and fauna at NECD.

In 1993, the NECD Operating Contractor, Mason & Hanger Corp., contracted with the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves to complete the report "Inventory of Natural Areas and Rare Plant Species within the Newport Army Ammunition Plant". The report provided inspiration to start reconstruction of the Newport Chemical Depot Tallgrass Prairie, stating "A large acreage of the southwestern portion of NAAP was formerly mesic silt loam prairie. The Vermillion County Soil Survey showed prairie soils for this area, old Indiana county maps showed a large area of prairie, and we observed Big Bluestem and Prairie Dock along the road in the area. A restoration this large (1900 +/- acres) in this part of the Midwest is an exciting opportunity. There are no remnants in Indiana of prairies of the size of this potential restoration. The largest prairies that do remain in the state are sand prairies; thus the significance of this area is even more important because it is silt loam prairie restoration." In recognition of the Grand Prairie's importance to Indiana's history - and more specifically, the ecology of NECD - the NECD successfully reconstructed a portion of NECD to pre-settlement prairie conditions through a series of prairie reconstruction projects begun in 1994 and continuing until 2005. The prairie reconstruction projects were halted after NECD was placed on the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) List and subsequently scheduled for closure.

A total of approximately 336 acres was removed from row-crop production and converted to tallgrass prairie. Peter Schramm of Peter Schramm - Prairie Restorations was contracted to prepare the seedbed, supply the seed and plant all of the acreage in the spring of the year with a Nesbit drill. Local farmers prepared the seedbed. Schramm is a retired Knox College (Galesburg, Illinois) professor who pioneered prairie restoration techniques and has over 40 years of experience in the field. The total contracted cost of the 336 acre prairie reconstruction was $127,589; and was paid entirely from a small portion of the proceeds from NECD's annual agricultural leases. Only in 1994 was herbicide (glyphosate) used to assist with the seedbed preparation. In all of the subsequent years, only shallow tillage methods were used. A total of six species of grasses and fifty-four species of forbs were planted.

Prescribed burning in the spring has been the primary means to protect the prairie from weedy invasions. The Indiana Division of Forestry has played a major role in conducting the prescribed burns as the schedule of NECD would allow. All of the areas have been burned at least once, except for the 47.2 acres planted in 2000. In 2007 and 2009 NECD partnered with the Indiana Division of Forestry & Sycamore Trails RC&D to train local firefighters, natural resources professionals and the general public how to manage prairie with prescribed burning. In addition, Mason & Hanger Corp. has mowed wildlife travel lanes in the larger tracts of prairie that were planted in 2001 and 2002. In addition, approximately 91 acres of prairie that was planted in 2003, 2004 and 2005 was leased and cut once per year for prairie hay in 2007 and 2008. The forb rich areas adjacent to the main roads were not allowed to be cut for prairie hay.

The main reason for reconstructing the NECD Tallgrass Prairie was to increase the abundance and species diversity of wildlife in west central Indiana. The significant decline of grassland bird species is well documented in reports such as the multi-agency 2010 State of the Birds Report. Many grassland bird species (most declining) have been documented at the Newport Chemical Depot. State endangered grassland bird species that have been documented at NECD are as follows: Henslow's Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Northern Harrier, Sedge Wren, and Peregrine Falcon (hunting Ring-necked Pheasant). Another interesting prairie area sighting is the State special concern species Bobcat roaming the area.

The Newport Chemical Depot was awarded the U.S. Army Environmental Security Award for Natural Resources Conservation in 1996 (for 1994, 1995 and 1996) and 2003 (for 2001, 2002 and 2003). Reconstruction of the prairie was a major focus of winning these awards. Now the Newport Chemical Depot is home to the largest contiguous black soil prairie in the State of Indiana (by far); with room to potentially expand to over 2,000 total acres if the prairie reconstruction is continued on pre-settlement prairie soils and beyond. As stated in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources March 20, 2009 letter to the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority, "At one time 14% of the State of Indiana was covered with prairie grasses. Today less than one-tenth of 1% exists. Today, in the 21st century, prairies and the grassland animals dependent upon them are considered globally threatened. Note to self: Note to self: Note to self: Note to self:

The importance of prairie to endangered grassland species, floodwater retention, groundwater recharge, watershed protection, return of carbon to soils, erosion control, and aesthetics, among many other realized benefits, has caused prairie conservation to become an increasingly important issue. A restoration of prairie on this scale would be of national significance."

However, the Newport Chemical Depot is scheduled for closure in accordance with Base Realignment and Closure Law. The Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority's Reuse Plan makes no provisions for absolutely protecting the prairie. In fact, approximately 90% of the Newport Chemical Depot Tallgrass Prairie is in areas that could be plowed up or paved over, with little regard for the prairie and its wildlife. Furthermore, the Department of Defense has not indicated that they have a problem with the probable new owner (Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority) implementing the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Plan's indifference concerning the conservation of the Newport Chemical Depot Tallgrass Prairie. Therefore, the Newport Chemical Depot Prairie and all of the life that it holds is in jeopardy - reminiscent of its fate in the 19th century.

Currently the Environmental Assessment (EA) and draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FNSI) are available for review and comment until December 17, 2010. Copies of the EA and draft FNSI can be obtained by contacting Ms. Cathy Collins, Engineer, Newport Chemical Depot at 765-245-4391, or at cathy.m.collins@us.army.mil. The EA and draft FNSI are also available on the Internet at http:// www.hqda.army.mil/acsim/brac/env_ea_review.htm. A copy of the EA and draft FNSI is also available for review at the Clinton Public Library. Comments on the EA and draft FNSI should be submitted to Ms. Collins via e-mail or U.S. Mail at P.O. Box 160, Newport, IN 47966. Comments on the EA and draft FNSI should be submitted by no later than December 17, 2010.

All persons that advocate absolutely protecting the largest black soil prairie in the State of Indiana from future destruction should send their comments stating such, as soon as possible, and no later than December 17, 2010.

Reprinted with the author's permission.


Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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