SAVANNAH – If it goes BOOM, that’s bad. If you think it might go boom, then your property might qualify for the FUDS Program.
In the southeastern United States, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) Program is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Savannah District.
The Savannah District has responsibility to identify, investigate and, when needed, clean up such properties that were under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Defense before October 1986. Those properties include areas formerly owned, leased, possessed, or used by the military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, or other Defense agencies).
Nationwide the Corps identified more than 5,400 sites for investigation and cleanup. The Savannah District covers 79 active projects on 37 FUDS properties with a total of 1,105 properties in its area of responsibility.
“In FUDS, the public’s safety is our main concern,” said Wendell Hardwick, Savannah District FUDS program manager. “When someone comes across munitions or other unknown items, they should remember what we call the three Rs: Recognize, Retreat and Report.”
• Recognize – when you may have encountered a munition and the potential danger;
• Retreat – leave the area without touching, moving or disturbing the object;
• Report – notify local law enforcement about what you saw and where you saw it.
“Essentially, if you see something, like munitions, that’s out of the ordinary … recognize … you want to back away from it … retreat … and then report it to the local authorities,” added Hardwick.
Once a property becomes eligible for the FUDS program, cleanup projects typically fall into one or more of the following categories:
• Installation Restoration Program (IRP)
• Military munitions response program (MMRP)
• Building demolition/debris removal (BD/DR)
The type of cleanup required varies from property to property. These can include cleaning up hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste sites (soil contamination, buried waste or chemical weapons training areas, for example), removing munitions and explosives of concern or doing building demolition and debris removal if the building or structure was unsafe at the time of transfer.
“When remediating a FUDS property, we follow the steps laid out in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act,” said Hardwick. “We do a risk analysis at the appropriate phase to determine if there is a risk, and if there is none, we’ll close the site.”
The Corps does everything it can to ensure that when its work is complete, human health and the environment are protected.
“On a regular basis my team and I interact with state regulators in our area to discuss all of our active sites as well as any that may need to become active in the future,” added Hardwick.
Hardwick’s Savannah District FUDS team comes from diverse backgrounds, but all are focused on the FUDS mission.
For example, Carl Dokter came to the Corps as a geophysicist but has since transitioned to working in the FUDS program.
“So, all the old sites from WWII that still have rockets mortars and artillery, we use geophysical means to find where those are buried and dig them up. That’s what introduced me to FUDS, and there was an opportunity to be a project manager, so here I am,” Dokter said.
Many civil servants tend to have a sense of stewardship and those that work in FUDS are no different. Their outlook is more ecological than man-made.
“A lot of the work that I’ve done previously in both the private and public sectors has focused on hazardous toxic radioactive waste and the FUDS program addresses that largely in MMRP as well as the other program categories,” said Frank Cerio, who is also part of the Savannah District FUDS team with experience in chemical and environmental engineering. “Remediating and restoring the environment to its original condition pre-DOD, I think that’s a majority of people’s passion in the FUDS program.”
“In FUDS we tend to look at it through an environmental lens, and I see the progress as, we have these contaminants, they could be munitions or compounds. When we’re remediating those, you’re getting an improvement, this zone, this quadrant, this area that was once contaminated is no longer contaminated,” added Cerio.
FUDS personnel deal mainly with events of the past influencing the present, but always with an eye towards the future.
“We’re cleaning up issues of previous waste that has been left in place and we are remediating it so future generations can utilize that property, that land … but that’s what makes this enjoyable,” said Cerio.