Corps completes environmental clean up at former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant

Published March 25, 2008

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District celebrated the environmental clean up completion for the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant which included two of the largest and most complicated Superfund sites in the nation. 

 “The exceptional teamwork by all the stakeholders with regard to the clean-up has allowed the re-development at the Joliet Arsenal to become a national model that is envied by many communities and Local Reuse Authorities (LRA’S) throughout the country,” said Richard Kwasneski, executive director, Joliet Arsenal Development Authority, known as JADA.

Numerous areas of soil and groundwater were contaminated with explosives and chemical wastes at concentrations posing significant risk to human health and the environment.  Complicating matters were unknown mixtures and quantities of unexploded ordnance and munitions debris that existed at or just beneath the ground surface at many locations.

"We can all be proud of what was accomplished in this cleanup," said Richard Karl, director of Environmental Protection Agency Region 5's Superfund Division. "Construction was completed three years ahead of schedule, and we achieved more than just cleaning up a site – we achieved sustainability. Both of those successes are due in large part to the outstanding cooperation we have all enjoyed. The project that has restored this land to productive use is truly a model for all Superfund cleanups done under Federal Facilities Agreements."

The Corps, through contractor support, removed 276,000 tons of soil through bioremediation and removed and disposed of more than 8,000 munitions and explosives-related items during investigations.

The Corps built a bioremediation facility under contract with Montgomery Watson Harza. At the time, the facility was the world’s largest. It treated more than 30,000 tons of soil in its first year of operation and more than 276,000 tons before the cleanup was complete. The process used bacteria to feed on contaminants and took an average of 32 days to effectively treat the soil. The treated soil was beneficially reused as excavation backfill onsite.

Through the team’s effort, the bioremediation facility optimized production and reduced projected costs by 25 million dollars – a more than 20 percent savings.  The total cost of the environmental remediation program was approximately 122 million dollars. 

In addition, contractors removed and disposed of approximately 44,000 tons of soil contaminated with PCBs and other related compounds and approximately 73,000 tons of soil with metal contamination. 

The transformation from Army ammunition plant to a multi-use facility literally took an act of Congress.  The Illinois Land Conservation Act of 1995 -- signed into Public Law 104-106 -- launched the successful transfer leading to diverse land use for both public and private use. The Act authorized land transfers from the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant to Will County; the State of Illinois; the U.S. Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service.

According to Kwasneski, the assistance and priority given by the Army and the Restoration Advisory Board enabled JADA to secure developers and projects by providing a comfort level that the environmental concerns would be addressed in a timely fashion to allow development to move forward.

In 2000, JADA received the first transfer of land from the U.S. Army.  The transition has grown to include the CenterPoint Intermodal Center and the BNSF Logistics Park.  This logistics center serves as a central location for the gathering and distribution of goods in the Midwestern United States.  The International Union of Operating Engineers — Local 150 purchased 300 acres and built a state-of-the-art training center to help workers improve current skills and learn new ones while providing much-needed economic development in the region. Additions include a 1,100-acre Island City Industrial Park and a 776-acre warehouse and distribution park.

The land transferred has brought the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, the nation’s second largest; the 19,000-acre  Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the largest piece of protected open space in northeastern Illinois; and the 455-acresPrairie View Landfill.

Businesses are expected to generate more than 21,000 construction jobs, 8,000 permanent jobs, and more than 27 million dollars in annual property taxes.  Approximately 1750 acres remain for transfer by the year 2009.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proud to be part of this project's environmental clean up and success,” said Col. Raymond Midkiff, Louisville District commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  “The former facility continues to support the nation with industry and environmental restoration. The success serves as a role model for partnering for communities across the nation and world.”