RENO - Public hearings will be held this week on the Army's request to continue the annual detonation of thousands of tons of bombs, land mines and artillery shells at an isolated California base about 55 miles northwest of Reno.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is holding the hearings as part of the Sierra Army Depot's application for a California permit to continue the 30-year-old practice.
Environmentalists, Native Americans and rural residents sued the Army in April, saying the explosions and burnings of munitions at the base near Herlong, Calif., hurt the environment and shake homes for miles around.
Special crews at the base explode or burn about 12,000 tons a year of mostly old munitions, including ordnance from the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars.
Local residents, politicians in California and Nevada and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe have long complained about the explosions, which critics said intensified during the mid-1990s with the closure of other bases.
Public hearings will be held Tuesday night in Susanville, Calif., Wednesday morning on the Paiute reservation in Nixon, Wednesday night in Herlong and Thursday night in Reno.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is accepting written comments on the Army's request until Oct. 11.
Opponents claim the open burnings also may be to blame for elevated cancer rates in Lassen County, Calif., and at the Paiute reservation about 35 miles northeast of Reno.
But Army officials have defend the practice, saying it's safe and no toxins ever leave the base.
Although other methods exist for the destruction of old munitions, depot officials have said open detonation is preferred because it's the cheapest option available.
The practice has been banned at other military bases.