Here's an interesting story of one family's concerns re the recent proposed Dugway Proving Ground expansion.
Army tests ravaged family's land
Military blasted mines owned by Utahns with tons of chemical agents
Copyright 2004 Deseret Morning News
By Lee Davidson
Deseret Morning News
Siblings Louise, Douglas and Allan Cannon inherited a gold mine. But they say the Army is giving them the shaft, figuratively, as some of its
old, dark secrets have turned their dream of rich income into a nightmare.
They found belatedly that the Army's nearby Dugway Proving Ground attacked the old family mines with 3,000 rounds of chemical arms at the end
of World War II. The purpose was to simulate what the Army would face against Japanese bunkers and caves.
The Army 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 the choking agent Phosgene, plus high explosives and incendiary arms that included napalm, butane and
gasoline (from flame throwers).
"They bombed the heck out of it and contaminated our lands — and the surrounding (public) lands. And they won't clean it up," Louise says.
She worries that a new Army proposal to expand Proving Ground boundaries is an attempt "to try to surround us and landlock us," making it
impossible to access and work the mines, eliminating the need to clean up the Cannons' land or lowering the value if the government were to take it
under eminent domain provisions.
Also, it turns out that the Cannons had been quietly discussing the possibility of a repository for nuclear waste on their contaminated lands if
a similar plan for the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation fails. The Dugway expansion also could block their proposal for a waste site.
It all prolongs years of frustration, lawsuits, threats and counterthreats among the Cannons, the Army and the state of Utah and related but
unheeded pleas to Congress for help.
The siblings' grandfather, Jesse Cannon, "patented," or bought, the land from the government in the 1920s (and his father had started working
the land years earlier). Miners have sought gold, silver, lead and copper on those claims in the Dugway mountains. The inheritors say that when Jesse
died in 1954, he did not pass along any knowledge of Army contamination there to their father, Floyd.
Floyd made his children partial owners of the mine areas in 1957. They became full owners when he died in 1980. Douglas, one of the siblings, said
neither his father nor grandfather ever mentioned to him any knowledge about heavy bombardment of the area.
Louise said her father "did find some (chemical arms) canisters in a tunnel. He didn't know what they were. He called the Proving Ground to
see if they had been doing anything in the area, and they said they had not been over there."
Court documents later said Army records showed that the father called Dugway several times to ask for cleanup of unexploded ordnance and weapon
fragments he found. Louise says, "He was told they were strays from testing on the base."
Secrets begin to leak
In 1988, the Deseret News obtained and reported on Army documents that suspected public U.S. Bureau of Land Management areas in the "Southern
Triangle" near the Cannons' land were likely heavily contaminated by weapons testing. Also subjected to the tests, according to the report, was the
so-called "Yellow Jacket" area (the name of one of the Cannons' 86.5 patented mining claims in the region).
The Deseret News also wrote stories about how the Army then wanted to expand its boundaries to absorb such dangerous BLM areas, which the BLM
opposed, preferring that the Army clean up the land instead.
The expansion never occurred. But Army officials said last month in response to Deseret Morning News inquiries that expansion has again been
proposed internally. Officials have offered no further details, nor specifics on what boundaries are sought.
Despite early Deseret News stories, the Cannons said they did not truly suspect heavy contamination of their lands until the Army Corps of
Engineers requested official permission in 1994 to enter their property "to determine whether . . . these lands have been impacted by unexploded
Louise said she later happened to be at the Tooele County Courthouse on Aug. 30, 1994, filing paperwork on a mining claim when a worker told her
the Army was holding an information session downstairs about possible contamination on desert lands.
"I signed in, picked up the fact sheets and left," she says. "The fact sheets said they were checking for contamination in the Southern
Triangle and on private property, but did not name the Cannon property."
However, by signing in there, courts would later rule that Louise had enough knowledge about potential contamination on the Cannon lands that
she unwittingly started a clock ticking toward a two-year deadline to file any lawsuits against the government. She would not learn about that
deadline until it was too late.
In 1996, a government contractor finished a draft study that said the Cannon property was heavily contaminated. Visits by the contractor had
found intact, high-explosive mortar shells and burster tubes from chemical-filled rockets and bombs.
According to court documents, the study said a full-scale removal of munitions and debris in the Yellow Jacket claim area alone — only a small
part of the Cannons' property — would cost $12.3 million.
It also said record searches showed at least 3,004 rounds of chemical weapons had been fired into some of the Cannon mines, and it listed the
other weapon types tested on the property. It found chemical munitions residue and chemical agent contamination throughout the area and said it was
likely the entire 1,425 acres of Cannon property was contaminated.
Deseret Morning News graphic
It recommended buying the land, fencing it, posting warning signs, doing some limited munitions removal and sealing the mines.
Douglas Cannon says a gold company that had a lease on the Cannon mines abandoned it for fear of the contamination. He said other companies that
had shown interest in leasing it also backed away quickly once they learned about the Army's testing and contamination.
Louise says she had been anxiously awaiting the study that confirmed the contamination, and often called the Army Corps of Engineers seeking it.
"They kept saying it would come in 30 days. Then in another 30 days," she said.
She says one employee there finally warned her that she only had two years from the time she learned of potential contamination to file a suit.
She called an attorney, who confirmed that.
After the Cannons saw the draft study confirming contamination, they filed a claim with the Army, and then a lawsuit in federal court, seeking
$8.8 million in damages, the value they put on the land.
As the lawsuit advanced, the Army said it found an old contract it had signed with the siblings' grandfather, Jesse Cannon, that had allowed
the military to use the Yellow Jacket area for testing for six months. "We had never known about it," Louise says.
That contract, which gave Jesse just $1, allowed the Army to use a portion of his property in exchange for the Army's promise to "leave the
property of the owner in as good condition as it was on the date of the government's entry."
Louise says, "The Justice Department says he did that because he was patriotic" and wanted to help the war effort against the Japanese.
"We'll never know," she says. "It (the contract) never mentions any military maneuvers or testing. He wasn't allowed on the property for the six
months it was used. I don't think he knew what they planned."
After the Army's "Project Sphinx" testing ended on that land, documents that emerged during court proceedings show that Jesse Cannon was not
happy with what he found.
He walked the area with an Army claims officer who found the "entire area is liberally covered with shell, rocket and bomb fragments," and
that "just outside a cabin are 10 butane-filled dud bombs."
Jesse filed a first claim for damages, and was paid $755.48. Later, he filed another claim for damages to mine shaft timbers from the testing
and was paid $2,064.
He filed a third claim five years later in 1950. He said while he accepted the earlier payment in full for all claims for damages at his Yellow
Jacket mine, "I did not believe at that time that the chemical agents used by the Army would remain in the workings and make it impossible for me to
ever operate the mine again without some sort of decontamination."
The claim added he found there was "still a concentration of poison gas present in the mine," and said miners who considered leasing it
"shied away when they learned of the Army's use of the mine." He never collected money on that claim, and his grandchildren never learned about it
Regardless, Louise says, "The Army was under contractual obligation to clean up the land, and they never have."
Court win, court loss
The younger Cannons initially won $160,937 in damages against the Army in 2002, but the Army appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals,
which reversed the decision.
Despite the reversal, the appeals court's written opinion blasted "the government's abysmal failure over the past half-century to clean up
the test site."
It lamented that the law gave the Cannon siblings only two years from when they learned about the possibility of heavy contamination of their
property to file suit. The Cannons had contended the clock should have started ticking when the Army's draft study of contamination was released in
1996 (which is also when they filed suit).
But the court agreed with the Army's assertion that it began when Louise attended the information meeting in 1994, and when the Army asked
permission to search for unexploded ordnance. That meant the statute of limitations allowed by law had expired, and the Cannons lost.
Still, the court wrote, "The United States government has yet fully to recognize and appreciate Jesse F. Cannon's contribution to national
security during World War II. The government should have lived up to its obligations long ago. . . . The Cannons' remedy at this stage is political,
however, not legal."
Full Deseret News article