Photograph by Steven Higgs

The "Indiana prairie's last best chance" is a series about reuse plans for the Newport Chemical Depot in Vermillion County in far west-central Indiana. The base was built in 1942 to produce bombs for World War II. From the 1960s to 2005, the 7,100-acre installation produced and stored VX nerve agent. From 1994 to 2005, the Army allowed natural resource experts to restore on the base a rare, 336-acre, black-soil prairie of the type that existed in the region before settlement.

In 2005, the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to close Newport. But despite having won two conservation awards for the restoration, the Army dismissed public pressure to protect the prairie in perpetuity before transferring it to a Local Reuse Authority, whose five members are appointed by the Vermillion County Commissioners.

The reuse authority's draft plan in 2009, which did not protect the prairie, drew criticism from a variety of citizens, citizen groups, government agencies (including the Indiana Department of Natural Resources), natural resource experts and academics. Despite the prairie's small size and the public consensus on its importance, the Army transfered the base to the reuse authority at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on Sept. 15, 2011, with no guarantee the prairie won't be plowed and farmed or built upon.