SAUK COUNTY (WKOW) -- The Badger Army Ammunition Plant (BAAP) has shaped Sauk County for six decades, but will soon be gone. The U.S. Army has spent about $200-million in cleanup costs, preparing to transfer the land to new ownership. This weekend, the public got their first look inside the gates.
The Army is in the process of cleaning up and transferring 3,800 acres of land to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area. So far, about 1,400 buildings have been torn down, leaving just 30 still on site.
Since its first public comment session this summer, the DNR has gotten a lot of feedback on what the public wants to see happen with the master plans.
"We could restore large chunks of property back to native prairie and grass lands," says DNR south central region director Mark Aquino."[People want] hunting, trapping, wildlife watching, and certainly hiking."
Nearly 1,200 cars drove through the more than 7,000 acres of BAAP property on Saturday, seeing the site's two historic cemeteries dating back to the 1800's, the spots where weapons were made and wildlife areas. For many, it was their first time inside the military-secured site near where they grew up.
"I've never been able to be in this area that my sisters used to play in, they went to school in the Badger Ordinance Works before it was that," says Jean Buege, whose family farm was relocated off the land when the plant was built in 1942. "I hope younger people will take interest in where their relatives lived and what they went through during that time and remember it."
While many support the idea of a public recreation area at the BAAP site, controversy remains over groundwater and soil contamination. DNR officials say they're working with the Army to ensure cleanup meets federal and state standards for safety and are confident they won't expose the public to any health risk at the new facility.
The Army is waiting to approve a plan to phase out water treatment in the area, and is seeking to work out an agreement with municipalities to install a public water system.
Right now, the DNR has control of about 2,200 acres and the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center has acquired about 2,000 acres. The Ho-Chunk Nation is working on a deal to acquire about 1,500.