Family Struggles with Land Contaminated by Army Testing

Family Struggles with Land Contaminated by Army Testing

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Siblings Louise, Douglas and Allan Cannon thought they had inherited a gold mine.

But what they say they got instead was a bunch of land they cannot lease, sell or use because it's been contaminated by World War II Army munitions tests.

Now, they want compensation.

In a copyrighted story in the Deseret Morning News Friday, the Cannons accuse the Army of ruining their land -- near Dugway Proving Ground -- and refusing to clean it up.

They discovered that Dugway 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 a deadly mustard agent, hydrogen cyanide and the choking agent Phosgene, plus high explosives and incendiary arms that included napalm, butane and gasoline.

"They bombed the heck out of it and contaminated our lands -- and the surrounding lands. And they won't clean it up," Louise says.

The newspaper's story did not include any direct Army responses to the claims, and Dugway officials were not reachable for comment Friday.

The siblings' grandfather, Jesse Cannon, signed a $1 contract allowing the Army to use his land for six months, so long as they promised to "leave the property of the owner in as good condition as it was on the date of the government's entry."

Court documents from later proceedings showed Jesse Cannon wasn't happy after the Army's "Project Sphinx" testing ended.

He walked the area with an Army claims officer who found the "entire area is liberally covered with shell, rocket and bomb fragments."

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 although 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."

He also said in the claim he found poison gas left in the mine.

Despite a government contractor's determination in 1996 that the Cannon property was heavily contaminated and cleanup of just a portion would cost $12.3 million, the Cannons haven't won a settlement.

Their lawsuit was thrown out after a judge determined the two-year statute of limitations had passed.

"We're in a Catch-22. We can't get the property cleaned up. We can't lease it. We can't even get rid of it. I even worry we might be liable if someone is hurt out there by some of the contamination," Louise said.

She adds, "What I want them to do is clean it up. The price of precious minerals is going up, especially gold. It's not only a large mine, but it has shown promise in the past" and managed to produce $246,000 in lease fees despite the contamination worries between 1969 and 1993. Some promising veins have been identified.

The Cannons have even considered turning the land into a nuclear waste repository if a similar plan for the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation fails.

Douglas Cannon said Army representatives said in court that there are plans to clean up the area eventually, but the Army is likely years away from getting the funding from Congress.

He said when the judge asked the Army if it would be interested in buying the land, "They said no because it is contaminated. That is ironic, because they contaminated it. They said they didn't have the budget to handle it."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-11-26-04 1521MST

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