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Deseret Morning News, Thursday, March 31, 2005

Dugway expansion a mystery

Are plans due to tainted soil — or maybe UFOs?

By Lee Davidson
Deseret Morning News

Does the Army want to expand its Dugway Proving Ground in Utah so it can forcibly obtain nearby land it contaminated with chemical weapons but has refused to clean?

Or does it want to keep UFO-hunting groups farther away from the secretive base because they now closely watch it, suspecting that it stores and works on alien spacecraft as a "new Area 51"?

Pick either theory or one of your own because the Army isn't going to say. Five months after being asked, the Army has officially refused to release documents explaining why and where exactly it might expand Dugway.

In a letter denying a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October by the Deseret Morning News, Brig. Gen. James R. Myles, commander of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, states that the Army had identified "a number of documents ... regarding proposals to enlarge the boundaries of Dugway Proving Ground," confirming it is indeed looking at expanding the base that is already larger than Rhode Island.

But, he wrote, "we must withhold the documents in their entirety under Exemption 5 of the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). All of the documents found responsive to your request are predecisional and deliberative in nature."

That exemption allows — but does not require — government agencies to withhold "predecisional" documents that debate proposals to help encourage open and frank discussion about policy between subordinates and superiors, and to protect against premature disclosure of proposed policies.

The Morning News immediately appealed the denial to the secretary of the Army, arguing that release of the information would be in the public interest and would reduce confusion and speculation about why the military is considering expansion of the base.

The newspaper first reported in October that the Army was looking at the expansion, as rumored by nearby landowners. At that time, the base issued a short statement to the newspaper saying, "Dugway has requested permission to study the possibility of increasing the size of Dugway's training and testing ranges."

The Army has not said how big an expansion it is considering nor exactly where.

In 1988, the Army also proposed expanding it to obtain 66 square miles south of the base after studies showed it was contaminated by old tests of chemical weapons.

That expansion never occurred, in part because the U.S. Bureau of Land Management — which owns most of that land — opposed the expansion and called for the Army to clean up any old munitions there instead.

Also, siblings Louise, Douglas and Allan Cannon — who jointly own land in the area and hold numerous mining claims there — have questioned publicly whether the military is pushing a new expansion to forcibly obtain their lands, where contamination occurred but the military has refused to clean.

Court documents from Cannon lawsuits disclose that the Army attacked the Cannon's old family mines with 3,000 rounds of chemical arms for tests at the end of World War II. It also bombed the surface of 1,425 acres of Cannon family-owned land above the mines with more than 23 tons of chemical arms, including deadly mustard agent, hydrogen cyanide and choking agent Phosgene.

The Army says it had permission from the Cannons' grandfather for that testing. But the younger Cannons say contracts only recently found required cleaning of the land — and failure to do that has prevented working potentially lucrative gold mines. Courts dismissed their claims saying they were filed too late.

"They bombed the heck out of it and contaminated our lands — and the surrounding (public) lands. And they won't clean it up," Louise Cannon complained last year.

Meanwhile, hunters for aliens also said they suspect Dugway is trying to expand to keep them farther away. Several of them report seeing from afar mysterious Army convoys with trucks carrying under tarps some oval or circular objects they conjecture could be alien flying saucers.

Dave Rosenfeld, president of Utah UFO Hunters, has said hunters of aliens have been watching Dugway closely. Many groups operate Web sites contending that secret work on aliens and their spacecraft that they say once occurred at Nevada's Area 51 have been transferred to Dugway.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com

© 2005 Deseret News Publishing Company