Rocky Mountain Restoration

One of the largest U.S. restoration and recycling programs nears completion.

Just 10 miles outside downtown Denver lies one of the largest environmental cleanup programs in the nation. Known as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the site is also home to one of the nation's largest recycling projects.

"Recycling has played a major role in helping us achieve our environmental stewardship goals," says U.S. Army program manager Charlie Scharmann. "Ultimately, this site will be an educational resource that illustrates what we can accomplish when we commit to restoring and conserving our environment."

Evolving from War to Peace

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army built the Rocky Mountain Arsenal to manufacture chemical weapons as a deterrent against the Axis Powers. After the war, the Army leased some of the facilities to private industry, including Shell Oil Co., which manufactured agricultural chemicals at the site. All manufacturing stopped in the early 1980s, and the Army and Shell began a comprehensive environmental cleanup of the site. In accordance with a congressional act, more than two-thirds of the 17,000-acre site has already been given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage as a national wildlife refuge following remediation. By the time the cleanup is completed in 2010, the refuge will encompass 15,000 acres and provide habitat to more than 300 wildlife species, including American bald eagles, bison and burrowing owls.

Committing to Conservation

As a remediation site in transition to a refuge, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal must approach recycling differently than a manufacturing site. Each of the remediation projects includes waste reduction and pollution prevention plans, and all activities occur under the oversight of federal, state and local regulatory agencies. Although some materials from past manufacturing could not be recycled, the Army and Shell are still committed to an ambitious recycling program.

Since remediation began, the Army, Shell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recycled:

  • 1.9 million tons of crushed runway concrete

  • 10,000 tons of steel from demolished structures

  • 51,720 pounds of paper and commingled materials in 2008 alone

  • 234,000 pounds of scrap metal

This effort involves every arsenal employee and subcontractor. The goal is to minimize the waste generated, recycle as much as possible and foster a culture of conservation. A local recycling group recently recognized this effort by naming the arsenal the Business Recycler of the Year.

Recycling a Mountain Range

One of the most unusual projects in this multifaceted program involves recycling more than 1.9 million tons of crushed runway concrete located next to the arsenal. Following the demolition of the old Stapleton Airport runways, the concrete sat in towering piles nicknamed the "Mini Front Range." The city of Denver was set to remove the concrete to make way for residential development when the Rocky Mountain Arsenal intervened.

Arsenal managers needed to purchase high-quality cobbled concrete or rock to be used in the construction of caps and covers over landfill and consolidation areas. The concrete is part of a multi-layered cover system and prevents wildlife from burrowing into the waste. Realizing the Stapleton concrete met their specifications, arsenal managers purchased the material from the city, rather than excavating new material and trucking it in from the mountains. This arrangement allowed the arsenal to launch one of the largest recycling projects in the country. It also avoided pollution and safety risks from an estimated 100,000 round trips needed to haul materials from mountain quarries.

Educating Future Generations

Even after the remediation ends, recycling will continue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is incorporating recycled materials into the construction of new bison corrals and will reuse fence rails and other materials saved from demolished structures. These efforts — as well as exhibits about the cleanup and restoration efforts — will ensure that the site remains a tool for teaching future generations about environmental stewardship.

Jennifer Watson
Rocky Mountain Arsenal Public Affairs Office