A Salt Lake company fears that Dugway Proving Ground is planning to take over thousands of acres of nearby Bureau of Land Management and state land because of alleged contamination by unexploded bombs.
Kathy Whitaker, a public affairs officer at Dugway, confirmed last week, "There has been some consideration here on the Proving Ground that we propose a withdrawal of some of the acreage south of our existing southern border."But she said a withdrawal is only one option. And if it is pursued, it would require "many approvals up and down the chain," taking two to three years.
"We have not yet even begun any formal process," she said. "We have not yet even made the decision here at the Proving Ground that we want to request the withdrawal."
Gold Standard Inc. has valuable mining claims in the area supposedly contaminated south of the base, throughout Tooele County's Dugway Mountains. It is a region used for decades by rockhounds, hikers, prospectors and livestock grazing operations.
Company officers don't believe the land is seriously contaminated. They fear a takeover could cost the company many thousands of dollars in lost mining revenue, as well as around $250,000 already spent to discover likely deposits of precious metals.
According to company spokesmen, Dugway is apparently planning to take over between 40 and 66 square miles adjacent to the base, under the Engle Military Withdrawal Act.
Dennis Oaks, acting manager for the BLM's Salt Lake District, said, "We're not particularly pleased with their proposal to take those lands."
Gold Standard is more blunt than the BLM. It calls any possible takeover attempt a "land grab."
The Army's expansion idea was unearthed by the Deseret News in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and reported late last year. Oaks said he learned of the plans through newspaper articles.
The area covers about 66 square miles of BLM territory. Army officers say it may be contaminated with unexploded bombs containing chemicals, high explosives or biological agents. The bombs were used in tests at the nearby proving ground.
In 1987, when the possibility of contamination was still secret, Gold Standard began an extensive mapping and survey to examine the value of minerals on the Dugway Mining District, about 35 miles west of Mercur. Gold Standard has nearly 7,000 acres leased or claimed.
H. Richard Klatt, exploration manager for Gold Standard, said he has learned Dugway is preparing to release an environmental statement this month that would advocate its takeover of land in the Dugway Range.
"They're talking about the north portion, or most, of the Dugway Mountains," he said. The mountain range reaches into the southern part of the base.
"I'm guessing it's going to cover the entire Dugway Mining District.."
A Dugway official told him the base wants to withdraw the land because of the Army's concern about members of the public encountering buried bombs.
"They did all this bombing in World War II - they haven't reacted very quickly."
If the Army goes forward with the plan, it would cause great problems for Gold Standard. "Our exploration reconnaissance is strongly indicative there's significant mineralization out there," Klatt said.
"We've spent over $200,000 out there . . . any discovery that's made benefits the local and state level" as well as the private investors.
Gold Standard's president, Scott Smith, put the investment at more than $250,000. "Quite frankly, we have never seen any unexploded ordnance," he said. "We think it's ridiculous."
Gold Standard wrote letters complaining to the Utah congressional delegation, the Utah Mining Association and the BLM. A copy of a letter, addressed to Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, was passed along to the state's Resource Development Coordinating Committee.
On April 11, the committee is scheduled to discuss the matter. It is second on the agenda, ahead even of Owen's wilderness bill.
The letter says that John Stephenson, formerly the associate district manager for the BLM's Salt Lake District Office, told Klatt that the BLM is strongly opposed to the withdrawal.
"That was correct at that time," Stephenson said. He doesn't know if that has changed in the past month.