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In 1942 and 1943, the U.S. War Department acquired about 12,000 acres of farmland in Dakota County for the construction of the Gopher Ordnance Works (GOW). The GOW facility was designed to manufacture smokeless gunpowder and related products, assisting the war effort by producing a propellant for American military ordnance. Production began in January 1945, and ceased in October 1945.
Title to 8,000 acres of the property was transferred to the University of Minnesota in two stages: Approximately 4,700 acres in August 1947 and another 3,320 acres in March 1948. The 1947 parcel includes the land south of 170th Street and the western third of the land north of 170th Street. The 1948 parcel includes the eastern two-thirds of the land north of 170th Street.
University research, including aeronautical, medical and agricultural projects, began on sections of the land immediately, frequently making use of some of the remaining 298 GOW buildings for studies and storage.
Influenced by a New York state report regarding World War II-era munitions facilities, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) inspected the property in 1981 and concluded on the basis of its limited investigation that there was no contamination of concern. Under a federal law that provides funding for environmental restoration of former defense sites, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has conducted several inspections and evaluations of the property, beginning in 1985. In a 1999 report, the Corps determined that the entire property was eligible for restoration funds. In 2005 the Corps revised its position and for the first time stated that only the land transferred in 1947 (south of 170th Street) is eligible for federally funded investigation and restoration. The Corps completed a detailed site investigation of the environmental condition of the 1947 parcel in March 2009.
In late 2010, the University of Minnesota launched a Remedial Investigation on 3,500 acres of its UMore Park property in Dakota County. The investigation will assess conditions to identify any potential environmental impacts resulting from the former Gopher Ordnance Works.
The University, the MPCA and the Corps are in discussions about the scope of federal responsibility for Gopher Ordinance Works-related environmental conditions on the property.