About $4 million is needed to begin cleanup of Aberdeen Proving Ground's former chemical weapons testing ground near Edgewood, but the Army isn't sure where it will get the money.
In a briefing for local officials yesterday, Aberdeen's commander said Pentagon policy prohibits bases from using the military's environmental cleanup budget to remove unexploded shells unless they pose an immediate danger.
The Army used the 300 acres near Edgewood, known now as the Nike site, to test chemical weapons from 1920 to 1951. It also housed Nike nuclear missiles during the Cold War. Now only the missile silos remain.
There is little chance, according to Aberdeen officials, that old, discarded chemical shells at the Nike site will detonate if they remain buried and are not disturbed.
The Army is obligated to clean up the site but Edgewood residents and county officials are worried about the process of removing shells that may contain mustard agent and phosgene, which could be deadly if they were to explode.
Some homes and three Harford schools are within 1,500 feet of the Nike site.
"If a chemical round detonated, indeed you would have a serious situation . . ." said Ken Stachiw, a top environmental official at the base.
Aberdeen's commander, Maj. Gen. Richard W. Tragemann, said he is asking congressional representatives and Harford officials to support his efforts to obtain the money.
He is seeking the money from one of several different sources in the Pentagon budget, including asking for a waiver to use the environmental cleanup funds.
"It is our intent to clean that area up completely, but it's going to take us some time," he said.
The Army has money to begin cleanup of 95 million gallons of ground water contaminated by a toxic solvent beneath the Nike site.
To find and remove chemical shells, General Tragemann said the Army would employ the most advanced cleanup technology and make use of the military's top bomb-recovery teams at the Nike site to ensure that residents are protected.
The Army will hold public meetings about the cleanup Saturday in Edgewood and April 8 in Joppa. It has sent 20,000 letters to Edgewood-area residents explaining the cleanup and efforts to protect the public.
Shirley Stoyer, a staff member who attended yesterday's briefing for Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican whose district includes Aberdeen, said Mr. Ehrlich "is aware of the situation and he is doing whatever he can to assist" the Army.
Joanne S. Parrott, president of the Harford County Council, said county officials would also be pushing for money for the site cleanup.
Talk of cleaning up the Nike site comes as Republicans in Congress are trying to slash Pentagon environmental spending because they think the program costs too much.
Aberdeen's cleanup budget for the current fiscal year is $48 million, which is a reduction of $50 million over last year's budget. Also, Aberdeen officials said they expect nearly $5 million to be cut from their cleanup budget before the end of the fiscal year in September.
The Congressional Budget Office said Friday that it will cost $30 billion to restore contaminated sites at U.S. military bases. Officials at Aberdeen, one of the most contaminated bases, said their cleanup cost could be about $1 billion over the next 15 years; the U.S. General Accounting Office has said that cost could be as high as $4 billion.