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Joliet Army Ammunition Plant

In 1993, the 23,500 acre Joliet Army Ammunition Plant 40 miles southwest of Chicago was declared excess federal land. The Joliet Army Training Area remains Army property and is still used for Army National Guard training.

The Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (JAAP), originally known as the Elwood Ordinance Plant (EOP) and the Kankakee Ordinance Works (KOW), and later as the Joliet Arsenal, was authorized by the federal government in 1940 to produce ammunition and explosives for the U.S. military. To construct the plant, 36,645 acres were purchased at a cost of $8,175,815. Construction costs totalled over $81 million. Seventy-seven such plants were built during World War II to support wartime needs. At the time they were built, the Joliet plants were considered the largest, most sophisticated munitions plants in the world. Both the Elwood and Kankakee plants became a training base that supported the Allies' effort. At peak production during WW II, over 10,425 people were employed at the two plants. The Elwood facility loaded over 926,000,000 bombs, shells, mines, detonators, fuzes, and boosters, and the Kankakee facility set a national record producing over one billion pounds of TNT.

The Elwood and Kankakee Plants were combined and redesignated the Joliet Arsenal in 1945, when operations were placed on standby. The Arsenal was reactivated during the Korean War, from 1952-1957, and then again during the Vietnam War, when it was again renamed as the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (JAAP). TNT production stopped in 1976, and by the late 1970's, most operations at JAAP ceased. The combined acreage of JAAP at the time it was declared inactive was 23,543.

The Joliet Army Ammunition Plant Manufacturing Area (MFG) located in Will County, Illinois, covers 14 square miles of an inactive Army munitions facility in Joliet, Illinois. The site, which is adjacent to the Load-Assembly-Packing (LAP) Area [another National Priorities List (NPL) site], is 10 miles south of Joliet, Illinois. From the early 1940s through 1977 more than 4 billion pounds of explosives, primarily trinitrotoluene (TNT) and tetryl, were made in the MFG Area. The production facilities are located in the northern half of the MFG Area. The southern half of the MFG Area is occupied by extensive explosives storage facilities. No production has occurred since 1977. The MFG Area includes: the TNT ditch complex, where process wash and waste waters were discharged or transported for treatment; the Red Water Area consisting of storage tanks, incinerators, evaporators, a lined lagoon; incinerator ash piles; landfills; the Flashing Grounds, used for flash burning material to remove explosive residues; and an area formerly used for the production of lead azide.

The Joliet Army Ammunition Plant Load-Assembly-Packing (LAP) Area, located in Will County, Illinois, covers 22 square miles of an inactive Army munitions facility in Joliet Illinois. The site, which is adjacent to the Manufacturing (MFG) Area [another National Priority List (NPL) site], is 10 miles south of Joliet, Illinois. From the early 1940s through 1977, high explosive artillery shells, bombs, mines and small arms ammunition were loaded, assembled and packaged on the site. Other activities included testing of ammunition, washout and renovation of shells, and burning and demolition of explosives.

JAAP's buildings are still standing, though most have been idle for 20 years. Over 1,000 of the total 1,462 buildings date back to WW II. Other remnants of the Arsenal's hey-day include 200 miles of roads, 166 miles of railroad, and 392 "igloos" which were used to store ammunition and explosives. The igloos, which were designed to withstand and contain the explosion of their highly-volatile contents in case of accident, would be prohibitively expensive to dismantle. Fortunately, the storage requirements for TNT are very similar to those for storing prairie forbs and seeds. The site is also enclosed by 37 miles of 8-foot chain-link fencing with 3 strands of barbed wire. During years of inactivity, the land was leased for agricultural purposes. There are currently 10,700 acres or row crops and 6,000 acres of pasture on the site.

Approximately 1,200 people live within 3 miles of the site. The surrounding area is used primarily for agriculture and a substantial amount of farming and grazing is carried out on uncontaminated portions of the installation. Future land use at the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant is prescribed in the Illinois Land Conservation Act of 1995. The LAP Area is designated to become a portion of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and several thousand acres have been transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service for this purpose. The LAP Area will also contain a municipal landfill for Will County and an industrial park for the city of Wilmington.

The reuse plan for the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant allocated approximately 3,000 acres to industrial park development, 982 acres to a National Cemetery to be developed by the Department of Veteran's Affairs, 455 acres to be developed as a landfill by Will County, and 19,000 acres to be managed as open space for ecosystem restoration and outdoor recreation. This plan was the basis for the legislation that was ultimately signed by President Clinton on February 10, 1996, creating Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

On March 10, 1997, the U.S. Army formally transferred 15,080 of the 19,000 acres which will comprise Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is now more than idea- it is a reality. But the healing of the land and the restoration of the prairie is a project that extends far into the future. Restoring the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant to tallgrass prairie will be a long process. Restoration efforts at other sites have shown that it takes years to reestablish a basic prairie matrix, and may take several decades to recreate landscapes like the original prairies.

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