What's the biggest obstacle to opening up Castner Range to the public?

Castner Range in Northeast El Paso (Credit: KFOX14)

The big question about Castner Range is how long it will take to clear away the unexploded munitions that litter the 7,000-acre wilderness area. The major reason President Barack Obama didn't declare it a national monument is because the U.S. Army must first make this former artillery range safe again.

There's a federal law called the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as CERCLA. It states the Army is responsible for cleaning up any unexploded ordnance on its properties before it can transfer the land to any other agency or group.

While the Army has now committed to do that, there have been similar statements in the past. For example, in 1998, a report commissioned by Fort Bliss, recommended the entire site be cleared of old munitions so that the land could be transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to become part of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

The real holdup has always been the cost to clear out all the old explosives. The clean-up that's now happening at another former Army artillery range shows that cost is substantial. At Fort Ord, California, more than 10,000 acres are being cleared of unexploded ordnance, with an estimated cost of about $190 million.

That process is also taking decades, a lot longer than the six-year timeline the Army proposed for Castner, in a letter to U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso. But in the letter, the Army did commit for the first time, to making Castner's clean-up a priority. Now, we have to wait and see whether Congress will provide the 10s of millions of dollars needed to make that happen.

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