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May 25, 2014

House passes bill which could help River Ridge

It shifts liability for environmental issues at former military bases to the federal government

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress on Thursday for fiscal 2015 includes an amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Todd Young that makes the federal government responsible for environmental issues that arise on former military bases.

Military bases closed under Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, procedure are afforded Section 330 indemnification, which makes the federal government liable for remediating environmental issues are discovered after closure. However, bases that are closed by the Department of Defense outside of BRAC procedure do not receive the same protection.

Young’s amendment would extend indemnification to any military land conveyed to state and local governments in the future.

“As it turns out, many former Army ammunition plants were closed outside of normal procedure,” Young, R-Ind., said Wednesday on the House floor. “As you can imagine, facilities where chemicals for ammunition production used to be mixed and discarded tend to pose some risk to the environment. And yet, merely because of the way they were closed down, cities and towns who later try to redevelop that property must assume the risk for any lingering environmental hazards.

“My amendment would simply extend that same protection enjoyed by most closed installations to all closed installations.”

Young has introduced similar legislation, called the Base Realignment and Indemnification Correction, or BRIC, Act, in each of his two terms in office. He also offered a similar amendment to the 2013 NDAA that passed the House, but was removed in conference. That amendment would have extended indemnification protection to all facilities no longer under Department of Defense control.

The amendment Young proposed to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, would only apply to property that has not yet been transferred to local governments, which includes the parcels at River Ridge where ammunition was actually produced and the landfill where hazardous materials were dumped.

River Ridge Executive Director Jerry Acy said if signed into law, Young’s amendment to the NDAA would add “an additional layer of environmental protection” for River Ridge.

“Since we were closed outside of the BRAC process, that protection is not automatically provided to us,” Acy said. “We’ve been working with Rep. Young and his staff since he’s been in office on this issue. We really do appreciate his efforts in this regard. We’re looking forward to some action, hopefully, on the Senate side.”

Young’s office is hopeful that Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will help ensure the amendment survives conference, said Young spokesman Trevor Foughty.

“Sen. Donnelly supports the common-sense effort to ensure that places like River Ridge Commerce Center have access to the same legal protections as other former military sites,” said Sarah Rothschild, spokeswoman for Donnelly. “Sen. Donnelly is advocating for River Ridge with the Department of Defense and working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a fair resolution, whether through the NDAA or any other available avenue.”

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