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Solid Outlook Ammo Plant Fires Up Jobs
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Things are coming along nicely at the Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant.

Following recent talks with Army officials, Riverbank Economic Development Department Manager Debbie Olson said the Army has ceased operations there and is ready to convey the base to the city.

Four out of the 10 existing companies at the base want to expand while others wish to move in and the future industrial park is expected to produce more than 1,000 jobs within the next three years.

"Last year we could not even get onto the site. Now we expect to have an office there by the end of August," Olson told Riverbank City Council members at their Aug. 10 meeting. "The Army has moved out. Now it's concerned there's nobody there to sign the lease. We need the Army to move some property out of our way."

The city is negotiating to secure some form of lease, even if not a complete conveyance, which allows it to move onto the site as soon as possible. This move hopefully will be next year at the latest, a year ahead of the date by which the Army is mandated to leave.

"It's coming, maybe a little slower than we'd hoped. But there will be a Riverbank industrial park there," Vice Mayor Dave White commented. "With 1,000 or more jobs too. I know, because I've been talking to a couple of companies who are interested."

Councilmember Sandra Benitez confirmed September of 2011 is the date by which the Army must leave.

Another speaker said he'd heard five out of 10 of the companies already on the site want to expand and publicity is bringing inquiries from outsiders.

"These aren't $8 an hour jobs either. Employees will make much more money than that," City Manager Rich Holmer observed.

On the subject of ground and water contamination, Olson said she'd heard the cleanup is almost completed.

"But the Army will continue to monitor the site for 20 years at no charge to us," Olson said, to ensure the contamination is gone.

Operations by aluminum processing company Alcoa and later by the Army in making shell casings contaminated the ground water with poisonous chemicals such as cyanide and chromium. The Army installed an elaborate pumping system 10 years ago and continues to work at cleaning the site. The plant is on the federal list of Superfund sites requiring clean up of hazardous waste.

Olson and other city officials and staff recently visited Boston to talk with the Association of Defense Communities, which represents communities nationwide like Riverbank that are seeking to acquire former military bases. She also met with Army officials in Riverbank late last week.