Utah Gov. Scott Matheson will file suit early next week in federal court to halt the Army's proposed air shipment of 896 nerve gas bombs from Colorado's Rocky Mountain arsenal to the Tooele Army Storage Depot outside Salt Lake City.
The Governor's office was given 10 day's notice of the move yesterday by the Department of the Army, which, according to the governor's press secretary, Maggie Wilde, means that the Army could move the nerve bombs any time after May 13.
Both Gov. Matheson and Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm have opposed the move for health and safety reasons. Last year the Army discovered three of the nerve bombs were leaking. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Health, Education and Welfare Department indicated publicly that the leaks, which occurred in the same place on the three bombs, could be typical of the weapon.
Both governors, who are worried about any movement of bombs that may be deteriorating, would like to see the nerve bombs neutralized right where they are.
However, according to the Army and the secretary of defense, the "wet eye" nerve bombs are an integral part of the nation's inventory of deterrents and should be stockpiled for the national defense.
Unofficial estimates place Utah's Dugway and Tooele Army base stockpiles at nearly 65 percent of the nation's store of chemical and biological weapons.
"The Army has shown callous disregard for the health and safety of the people who live here," said Matheson.
He said the bombs were in such deteriorated condition and contained such potent nerve gas that theoretically they could "annihilate the whole world."
"The proposed move . . . presents obvious hazards and the discovery of leaking bombs only compounds these dangers," Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) added.
Army spokesman Michael Watts of the Rocky Mountain arsenal says that the Army has decided to move the bombs by air because it feels that the Air Force C141 aircraft has the best safety record of any commercial, military or private aircraft in use.
As planned, the movement of bombs would require three weeks at the rate of one or two flights a day. Each flight crew would include a technical escort team to detect and neutralize any spills or leaks, or respond in the event of fire.
The flight path would head north from Denver's Stapleton airport to Dugway in the western Utah desert, flying over what the Army terms "sparsely populated central Colorado," which according to Colorado maps could include the Aspen or Vail ski resort regions, which are in the off season. The weapons would be taken from Dugway to Tooele by military convoy.