Army Oks $1.5M Settlement For Pollution At Former Depot

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Army has reached an agreement with Zuni Pueblo, the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico to pay $1.5 million toward restoring environmental damage done at a former munitions depot.

The proposed settlement filed in federal court involves Fort Wingate, a former Army installation near Gallup that was used as a munitions storage and disposal site before being closed in 1993.

Under the proposed settlement announced by state officials last week, about $1 million would go for restoration projects, $117,000 for cultural services damage and $314,000 to cover past and future costs of the state Natural Resources Trustee’s Office.

The restoration work will be in addition to ongoing cleanup at the site, which the state Environment Department has overseen since 2005.

“This has been in the works for a long time, and we’re excited about getting the settlement completed and the dollars on the ground for those communities that have been affected,” Natural Resources Trustee Maggie Hart Stebbins told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The agreement is subject to court approval following a 30-day comment period.

Hart Stebbins said she expects the court to sign off on it fairly quickly because there are no points of contention. Restoration work then will go out to bid, she said.

Zuni Pueblo Gov. Val Panteah lauded the settlement, saying the tribe looks forward to working with the state’s natural resources trustee and the Navajo Nation to “restore the health and productivity of these ancestral lands.”

Both tribes have long-standing historical ties to the lands in and around the former munitions depot, which sits on about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers) that is almost entirely surrounded by federally-owned or administered lands, including both national forest and tribal lands.

The site includes earth-covered igloos and earthen revetments that were used to store munitions as well large areas of buffer zones. It also has an industrial area and another area that held offices, housing and warehouses.

Pollution problems at the site include soil and water contaminated by hazardous waste and unexploded ordnance. The cleanup work involves finding, disarming and removing explosives.