Robert residents concerned after being told WWII-era bombs might be under their property

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POSTED: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 9:32pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 9:36pm

The small town of Robert, just east of Hammond, is a quiet place. But federal investigators say residents there might be living on top of an explosive situation.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the area near highways 190 and 445 was used by troops training for World War II, both for shooting practice and as a bombing range. And a handful of the munitions, including some 100-pound bombs, might still be alive, buried under the ground.

Residents of what's known as the Bombing range neighborhood were not told about the risk of an explosion until recently. They knew the area's history, but did not know the exact locations in question.

"I always thought the bombing range was east of us," said Roy Grant, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, "from Bombing Range Road back."

Now that the explosive risk is public, the city of Hammond and Tangipahoa Parish are stopping the issuance of building permits for that tract of land.

Neighbors say they do not understand why that was not the case until now.

"Put the septic tank down, and they ran 300 feet of line underground for the septic tank, and we didn't have any concerns about hitting any bombs," said Walter Farrell.

"I've dug a half-acre pond, put several fences up," said Grant. "We've done roads here, built buildings. And never thought about it."

Now, if residents want to sell their home, they will be legally required to tell the buyer about the bomb risk. That is driving values down, and causing insurance rates to climb even higher.

Grant said that if the cost of his insurance continues to increase, "I'll just have to drop it. Won't have any insurance. Barely pay it now."

The Corps says the risk of an explosion is small, so it will not schedule a subterranean examination until 2019, at the earliest, because other sites are more dangerous.

The metal detection procedure would cost roughly $2 million. One small group of neighbors is trying to get Congress to provide more money to speed up the process.

"I think the fuss is more or less because down the road they built this subdivision, and spent a lot of money with the drainage, the sewers, paved all the streets and all," said Farrell. Because the developer cannot get permits to build homes on the land, it currently resembles an empty, overgrown field.

Even if they do not fear the bombs, most residents wish the Corps would find the money to do its review and more accurately identify the location of the bombs.

"Kinda relieve our minds," said Grant, "because now we're definitely concerned. But we hadn't been worried about it for years."

To view the Army Corps of Engineers' 2009 report on the danger posed by the bombs, click here.

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