Deseret Morning News graphic

Pentagon inspectors are not amused that one Army database says Utah's vast Dugway Proving Ground has 1,192 square miles of test and training ranges within its Rhode Island-size borders, while a different database says it has only 456.

That is a difference of 736 square miles of maybe-it-exists, maybe-it-doesn't range land — about 11 times as big as Washington, D.C.

The Army Audit Agency found similar big differences at many ranges nationally.

The Deseret Morning News obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In response to the request, Dugway officials incidentally said for the first time why they are seeking to expand the base's boundaries. They want to stop people, such as UFO-watchers who think Dugway is the "new Area 51," from spying on official activities from nearby mountains. The Army previously had refused to comment officially on its reasons.

Inspectors wrote in the new report that nationally, they found a 5.8 million-acre discrepancy — or 9,062 square miles — between two Army databases that sought to track how much range land the Army has.

Dugway Proving Ground had the fourth largest discrepancy among the national bases assessed, and had 8 percent of the total by itself. (Army-used ranges that had bigger differences included: White Sands Missile Range, N.M., 3.3 million acres; San Juan National Forest, Colo., 634,562 acres; and Fort Greely, Alaska, 631,556 acres.)

In a written response to the Morning News, Dugway officials said most of the reason for differences stems from the two databases examining somewhat different things.

It said that one, called the Range Property Inventory (RPI), looks at "current active and usable ranges on the installation." It had the smaller number at 456 square miles.

The other, called the Army Range Inventory Database (ARID), was developed by a contractor nationally as part of a process "to document all areas that had the potential of munition contamination any time during the history of the installation." It listed the larger number for Dugway at 1,192 square miles.

Dugway's response to the ARID calculation said, "Many times the same area is counted many times as it was used for different types of tests. There were also some differences between the two databases in determining what was buffer zone and what was range."

Dugway is where the military historically tested many of its defenses against chemical, biological and radiological warfare, as well as many of its new weapon systems. It has also been used for troop training and maneuvers.

The Army Audit Agency said that such differences in definition accounted for discrepancies at many of the other ranges, too. Also, it said the ARID database included some lands not owned by the military that were available for test and training under various agreements, and ARID sometimes had better acreage counts because it used satellite geographical information the other database did not have.

Dugway's response to the Morning News said it currently has "sufficient land to accommodate current testing and training operations. There is some feeling that in the event a troop unit is assigned to Dugway, more land may be required."

However, it said that is not why the base has been lobbying to expand its southern boundary.

Some feel it would be in the government's best interest to restrict ongoing monitoring by non-military persons of sensitive training and testing by restricting access to higher ground around the installation that has been used by observers in the past, the response said.

Dugway previously had not officially said why it has been seeking that expansion and denied requests for documents that discussed it. (The Pentagon just last week gave a final official rejection of the Morning News' appeal of the Army's refusal to release such documents.)

However, aides to Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, previously said the Army had told the congressman, who is looking at legislation to expand the base, that officials were worried about people watching the base from nearby mountains.

Many UFO-watching groups say they suspect Dugway has become the "new Area 51," and works on aliens or alien spacecraft at the remote base. Some have posted pictures on the Internet of operations they watched from the Dugway Mountains, off Dugway property.

Others have also speculated that the Army wants the Dugway Mountains within its boundaries to avoid the possible high expense of cleaning up contamination there from the use of conventional and chemical arms through the years.

Siblings Louise, Douglas and Allan Cannon, who jointly own key land in the Dugway Mountains and hold many mining claims there, once sued the Army seeking to force cleanup of such contamination or, in the alternative, compensation for the tainted land. Their suit was dismissed because it was not filed soon enough after they could have learned about the contamination.

Court documents from the Cannon lawsuit disclosed that the Army contaminated their land with 3,000 rounds of chemical weapons at the end of World War II. It also bombed the surface of 1,425 acres of Cannon land with more than 23 tons of chemical arms.

The Mountain State Legal Foundation announced last week that it is now representing the Cannons in their ongoing battle with the Army. That foundation says it seeks to protect private property ownership rights, and the multiple use of public lands.


E-mail: [email protected]