The US Army is close to a decision on a long-simmering dispute over a plan to move 900 bombs filled with never gas from Denver to an Army depot in Utah. Sources close to the case, which has plodded along now for seven years, say that the Army will announce within a month that it intends to proceed with its plan to move the weapons.
The issue has sparked a complex debate about whether it would be just as safe to continue storing the bombs at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Stapleton International Airport in Denver or undertake the delicate and potentially dangerous task of transporting the bombs by plane and truck to a remote location in Utah where similar chemicals are handled.
Utah Governor Scott M. Matheson is still unsatisfied with the Army's plan. "I have received nothing so far that would cause me to change my point of view one iota," he told the Monitor.
The Governor is "unalterably opposed" to the plan because of what he claims is an unsatisfactory Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Army and the lack of preparation for a possible accident.
Last May, the State of Utah filed suit in federal court against the Department of Defense to block the move. That suit has been in abeyance, but if the Army decides to proceed with the plan, says Governor Matheson, the case will be activated immediately.
Utah officials believe that the Army is in a tight spot. The bombs are less than three miles from a runway at a busy metropolitan airport.
While past records of transporting such dangerous materials are good, Utah has made it clear it will go to any lengths to keep the bombs out. Proposals to detoxify the bombs in Denver pose safety problems, and the Army is known to be concerned that US stockpiles of chemical weapons are lower those to the Soviet Union.
To compound the dilemma, 11 of the bombs stored in Denver are confirmed to be leaking gas into their storage containers. The Army says the public is in no danger, but an Army report last year said it was likely the condition of the bombs would continue to deteriorate.
The bombs, known as "weteyes," contain a nerve agent called "GB." A small drop can be lethal. Each bomb contains 320 pounds of the chemical.
The Army plans to fly the bombs on C-141 cargo aircraft to Dugway proving grounds in western Utah and then truck them over a mountain pass to the Tooele Army Depot. The same Army report on the condition of the bombs last year attributed some of the leaks to fractures caused by "stress."