Alien hunters and nerve agent contamination may be prompting Dugway Proving Ground to seek to expand its size.

Officials at the Army base are closed-mouthed about why they want to acquire a huge swath of adjacent land, mostly under control of the Bureau of Land Management. They have not even spelled out how much they want.

But they confirmed that the gigantic military reservation filed documents seeking approval for expansion studies.

The amount of land under discussion ranges from 55 square miles to 145 square miles — and if the nearby Dugway Mountains are included, that increases by 25 square miles.

One motive for acquiring land may be to keep Dugway's expected anti-terrorism training secret at a time when the base is coming under telephoto scrutiny by alien hunters.

Security hassles could grow as vexing for Dugway as they have been for many years at the military base at Groom Lake, Nev.

Groom Lake, also called Area 51, is 90 miles north of Las Vegas. It is famous in UFO lore as supposedly housing a crashed flying saucer. UFO fanatics have brought it under intense surveillance.

Top-secret military aircraft were developed at Groom Lake, including the U-2 and Blackbird spy planes as well as the Stealth fighter. The fact that no crashed saucers have been documented there hasn't deterred alien hunters from staking out the base with high-powered gear.

A few years ago, a rumor circulated that secret activities at Groom Lake had been transferred to Dugway. Now alien hunting is taking place just outside the Utah base.

One hunter-oriented Internet site is headed "Dugway Proving Ground — The New Groom Lake?" Located at www.abovetopsecret.com/pages/dugway.html, it displays an overhead view of Dugway facilities. "It is by far the most secretive facility in Utah as well as the most controversial," the caption reads.

Where was the picture taken? One vantage point would be from an aircraft, but airspace above Dugway is restricted. Another possibility is the view was snapped from a nearby mountaintop off base.

Among notes about mysterious vapor trails, increased military activity and unmarked black helicopters, the Internet site states:

"It has also been revealed that an unusual facility within Dugway may house experimental craft, possibly of alien origin. . . . (In the past) convoy trucks had been seen entering the hangar with their cargo covered by tarpaulins. One truck was seen which was carrying something oval or circular in shape and being about 30 feet wide. The truck was accompanied by five men. Could this have been a flying disc-shaped craft? Three concentric fences were later built around the hangar."

Dave Rosenfeld, president of Utah UFO Hunters, has an Internet page devoted to tracking strange goings-on at Dugway, including "alien presence." The page is at www.aliendave.com/UUFOH_DugwayProvingGrounds.html.

"Numerous UFOs have been seen and reported in the area in and around Dugway," Rosenfeld, who goes by the nickname "Alien Dave," said in e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. Most of the disks, black triangles, orange spheres, flying wings and manta ray-shaped objects must be secret military aircraft, he thinks.

But Rosenfeld added that military aircraft can't account for "all the unknowns seen in the area. It might be that our star visitors are keeping an eye on Dugway too!"

He considers Dugway "the new area 51. And probably the new military spaceport."

Responding to a question, he wrote, "Yes, we have been watching Dugway and the UTTR (the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range), we have seen some very interesting things out there."

Dugway, located in Utah's western desert and larger than the land area of Rhode Island, is where military experts develop defenses against biological and chemical attacks. Its recently announced expansion project includes plans for anti-terrorism training facilities.

The proving ground does not develop offensive chemical and biological weapons, but in past decades, before a ban on such arms, it experimented with them.

The earlier testing left contamination on land adjacent to the base, according to reports obtained by the Deseret Morning News.

A few years ago, Utahns descended from Jesse F. Cannon, original owner of the land, sued to force the government to either clean up their private property or buy it. They lost in August 2003, when the U.S. 10th District Court of Appeals ruled against them on a jurisdictional technicality.

Still, said Judge Bobby R. Baldock, the government had been an "abysmal failure" in cleaning up over the past half-century.

Should the government feel pressured to clean up the land, it may find it easier or cheaper to acquire and fence it.

During Project Sphinx, which started in the 1950s, the Army leased the Cannon land and used "to bomb the hell out of it," said Louise Cannon, Salt Lake City, one of the plaintiffs. The family's land on Dugway Mountain has old mines and "they used to try and see how lethal gasses moved through the tunnels.

"They used our mining tunnels on our patented mining land. They contaminated it with thousands of chemical bombs and mustard gas, phosgene, a shell that they call C-17," she charged. "Oh, there's lots of craters and fragments and old shells and stuff."

When she went there in December 2002 with a federal appraiser, they saw two artillery shells or bombs. "They were, oh, maybe 5 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet, and they were rusted out."

Dugway officials did not respond to a Deseret Morning News request for comment.

People go onto the property frequently, with easy access from the Pony Express Road. They include hunters, bikers and campers, Cannon said.

Dugway "should acquire it because it's a dangerous piece of property. You can stand right on top of it and look right down onto their proving ground."

And such a vantage point may be fine for seeking aliens.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com