Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant
|Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant|
|Nickname(s)||"The shell plant"|
The Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, formerly known as the Louisiana Ordnance Plant or as The Shell Plant, is an inactive 14,974-acre (60.60 km2) government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) facility located off U.S. Highway 80 in Webster Parish between Minden and Bossier City, Louisiana. Part of LAAP is now known as Camp Minden, a training center for the Louisiana Army National Guard. In recent years, LAAP and Camp Minden have become nearly interchangeable terms, with most references to Camp Minden.
At the beginning of 1939, the government imposed eminent domain to purchase the land for the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant (LAAP). Handled by the attorney Harvey Locke Carey of Shreveport, then with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the acquisition was completed in 1941 even before the United States entered World War II.
LAAP was completed in eleven months under the direction of the contractor, Silas Mason. At the time, the entire area was rural and thinly settled. Eight production lines were opened in May 1942. The number of employees during World War II peaked at 10,754 in December 1944, the month of the decisive Battle of the Bulge. Production of ammunition ceased in the summer of 1945 with V-J Day, and the plant was deactivated three months later. LAAP was restored to service during the Korean and Vietnam wars and operated through the 1980s until the middle 1990s.
In the building of the plant, nine rural cemeteries in Webster and Bossier parishes came uniquely under the perpetual care of the United States government. Existing wooden grave markers were replaced with small concrete slabs without the names of the deceased listed on the markers. The cemeteries are Allentown, Crowe, Jim Davis, Keene, Knotttingham, Raine, Richardson, Vanorsdel, and Walker. Those interred are listed with dates of birth and death and occasionally with other information in a printed survey, but individuals cannot visit LAAP grounds to look for specific graves; none would be found by the names were such a search conducted. The Crowe and Richardson cemeteries have the greatest number of individual grave listings.
Remington Rand reactivated LAAP in 1951, and employment reached five thousand in 1953. Production was suspended again in 1958. The plant was activated once more in September 1961 by Sperry Rand, the contractor until 1975. During this time there were two tragic accidental explosions in 1962 and again in 1968. LAAP had 7,800 employees at the height of the Vietnam War in 1967.
Thereafter, LAAP, colloquially known as "the shell plant", was operated from 1975 until 1989 by Morton Thiokol, now Thiokol, which also managed the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant near Marshall, Texas. In the mid-1990s, the property came under the management of Lea Hall Properties of Shreveport. In addition to the National Guard installation, the former LAAP is now leased to various commercial entities.
While in operation, LAAP was like a town unto itself, with its own 20-bed hospital, fire department, telephone line, water wells, sewerage and lighting systems, roads, staff housing, and meal services. The facility was so large that many needed a map to find their way around the grounds. There were major safety and security programs with certain employees designated as "guards"; to prevent fires employees were forbidden to enter the plant with smoking materials in their possession.
Among the plant managers during the Vietnam activation was retired United States Army Colonel Thomas L. Gaines (1901-1989), a native of Dickson County in western Tennessee who fought in both theaters of World War II. He left the active military in 1956 and was the LAAP general manager from 1961 until August 1969. Gaines also held the national position of chief of ammunition manufacture for all twenty-six Army munitions plants scattered throughout the United States.
James E. McMichael (1932-2009), a former teacher/coach at the defunct Lowe Junior High School in Minden and an administrator in vocational technical education as well, served for a number of years as the LAAP employment manager. Applicants selected had to pass a manual dexterity test.
LAAP had 7,800 employees in 1967. Under manager Steve Shows, employment was 1,700 twelve years later in 1979. A layoff occurred when the government stopped buying the 4.2-inch mortar round of ammunition. Attrition continued; in March 1992, Shows announced that 332 employees would be dismissed in phases beginning on April 1.
LAAP for many years was the largest payroll provider in Webster Parish. In 1990, it was one of fourteen active munitions plants in the United States, and had 1,400 employees, half involved in production. The plant pumped $36 million into the local economy. LAAP spent $37 million per year in the purchase of materials to produce mines, grenades, mortar, and artillery rounds. In 1993 LAAP began to seek commercial clients to lease partial use of the plant facilities.
Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center
Within LAAP is a $7.3 million state-of-the-art prison, the Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center, named for Dorcheat Bayou. Pushed to completion by former Webster Parish Sheriff Larkin T. Riser, the prison was constructed to house up to 340 prisoners. Because the land on which the center sits is former military property, Riser depended on then U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu to break through the federal regulations: "She was a real champion for us. She ... helped us get through everything that had to be done in Washington." In addition to the Dorcheat Center, the sheriff's department also has facilities for forty-five inmates on the top floor of the Webster Parish Courthouse in Minden.
On March 31, 1989, LAAP was listed as a Superfund site on the National Priorities List. The United States Environmental Protection Agency found that the ground water was contaminated by explosive wastes including cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX) and trinitrotoluene (TNT).
A 2012 explosion of 15 million pounds of M6 propellant rocketed Camp Minden. It shattered windows 4 miles away and created a 7,000-foot mushroom cloud and contaminated the area. The substance had been shipped to Explo Systems at Camp Minden and improperly stored at the facility. In 2014, the EPA ordered the Army to clean up the site on the grounds that the military should not have entrusted Explo Systems to handle such a large amount of the propellant. Three private firms, General Dynamics Corporation, Alliant Techsystems, and the Ashland, Inc., unit known as "Hercules" have been participating in the cleanup. In May 2015, EPA in conjunction with a Citizens' Advisory Group announced that an incinerator in the form of a contained burn system would be used. The plan is to dismantle the incinerator and remove it after burns are finished. To oversee the cleanup the EPA charged for about $8 million on top of $1.2 million that the state of Louisiana had already paid. Explo systems executives have asked a state judge to throw out charges, because M6 isn't classified as explosive in Louisiana.
In December 2013, a $26 million facility to house three military units in more modern facilities opened at Camp Minden. The Armed Forces Reserve Center, visible from U.S. Highway 80, had been under planning and construction since 2008. It provides permanent, consolidated housing for the 1083rd Transportation Company, the 39th Military Police Company, and the 122nd Air Support Operations Squadron. More than three hundred soldiers and airmen were impacted by the new facility. As of 2013 a second project, a Regional Training Institute, was under construction. The U.S. government funded the majority of the construction costs, the state provided $1 million, with another $6 million for infrastructure improvements.
M6 propellant cleanup
In June 2015, after months of public controversy, the Louisiana National Guard announced the awarding of a contract to remove millions of pounds of M6 propellant from Camp Minden. The task will require the construction of a contained burn unit. The initial $19 million contract could be increased to as much as $35 million to account for additional requirements set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which approved the cleanup. Colonel Peter Raymond "Pete" Schneider (born May 1966) of Metairie, a spokesman for the National Guard, said that Explosive Service International of Baton Rouge is overseeing the operation. The company received notice to begin work from the Louisiana Office of State Procurement.
- "Louisiana Guard honors memory of leader, WWII veteran". dvidshub.net. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
- "Notes for Harvey Locke Carey". familytreemaker.genealogy.com. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
- "The Army Ammunition Management System" (PDF). United States Army. December 1, 1982. p. 52. Retrieved March 15, 2010.
- "$30 million Shell Plant for Minden", Minden Herald, June 6, 1941, p. 1
- "The History of LAAP", lecture at Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, May 13, 2013
- Clifford D. Cardin, Bossier Parish historian, "An In-Depth Study of the Cemeteries and Graves Located in the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant near Minden, Louisiana", p. 4
- Minden Press-Herald, December 29, 1967, p. 1
- "Army Ammunition Plant under new management - Thiokol Corp.", Minden Press-Herald, January 3, 1975, p. 1
- "Services for Col. Gaines Saturday; Burial with Military Honors Monday", Minden Press-Herald, February 3, 1989, p. 1
- In his last year at LAAP, Colonel Thomas Gaines was also the Chamber of Commerce president in Minden; he died at the age of eighty-seven in 1989 and is interred at Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Louisiana.
- "James E. McMichael". zoominfo.com. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- Minden Press-Heald, December 29, 1967, p. 1
- "LAAP must lay off 33", Minden Press-Herald, June 27, 1989, p. 1
- "Layoffs announced at LAAP: 332 employees will be cut in phases beginning April 1, manager says", Minden Press-Herald, March 5, 1992, p. 1
- "LAAP payroll one of Webster's largest", Minden Press-Herald, February 27, 1990, p. 3C
- Bonnie Koskie, "LAAP contemplates commercial options", Minden Press-Herald September 15, 1993, p. 1
- Josh Beavers (March 28, 2002). "Dorcheat Center Ready at Last". Minden Press-Herald. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
- "Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant Superfund site progress profile". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved March 15, 2010.
- "EPA orders Army to clean up explosives at Camp Minden". The Shreveport Times. July 18, 2014.
- Zach Beaird (29 May 2015). "EPA offers Minden community more details on M6 disposal". Shreveport Times. Gannett Company. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
- Associated Press (21 May 2015). "Vitter, Fleming: EPA wants Camp Minden cleanup oversight pay". Shreveport Times. Gannett Company. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
- Associated Press (2 June 2015). "Company accused of improperly storing explosives at Camp Minden asks for charges to be thrown out". The Times Picayune. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
- "New military facility opens at Camp Minden: Armed Forces Reserve Center provides space for more than 300 soldiers, December 4, 2013". Shreveport Times. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
- Bonnie Culverhouse, "EPA approves disposal of explosives at Minden", The Piney Woods Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1 (June 2015), p. 1
- "Peter Schneider, May 1966". Louisiana Secretary of State. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- "Contract signed for M6 disposal at Camp Minden". Minden Press-Herald. Retrieved June 19, 2015.