Navy declares downton Adak ready for transfer

Posted: Monday, May 20, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Downtown Adak, once the heart of a distant military base, is ready for discharge to a new civilian life, Navy officials say.

After years of cleaning up pollution and looking for stray explosives, the Navy is ready to transfer 31,590 acres of the Adak Island military reservation to the Aleut Corp., an Anchorage-based Native regional corporation.

The tract takes in hundreds of houses, the airport, marina, school, medical clinic and other features left behind after the Adak naval air station was operationally closed in March 1997. Work continues toward giving clearance to transfer another 15,560 acres.

None of the land can be transferred until Congress passes a land-swap bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. That could come as soon as this summer. Under the bill, Aleut would get the Adak property in exchange for releasing its hold on equal acreage in the Shumagin Islands near Sand Point. That land is part of a national wildlife refuge.

Aleut and Navy officials hail the determination that downtown Adak is ready for private ownership.

''It's a significant milestone,'' said Sandra Moller, president of Aleut Enterprise Corp., an Aleut Corp. subsidiary working to redevelop Adak. ''We're inching closer. The end game that we're shooting for is the actual patent and transfer of the land.''

Adak is 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage and 400 miles west of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian chain.

As a military outpost, Adak once supported 6,000 people. After the base closed, cleaning up what the Navy had left behind became the main activity.

The Navy has spent more than a decade and close to $200 million cleaning up Adak Island, the northern half of which was used by the military. The southern half is wild land. Most of the cleanup money was spent on the downtown area, said Mark Murphy, an Adak cleanup manager with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Poulsbo, Wash.

The job included cleaning up fuel spills, removing asbestos from more than 300 buildings, and scouring the grounds for small-caliber ammunition, grenades and bombs dating to World War II, when the base was opened.

Some restrictions will remain. Certain sites will be monitored for years for fuel contamination. Groundwater from the downtown area can't be used for human consumption because of possible fuel or chemical contamination. Also, signs will warn people to limit consumption of bottom fish and blue mussels from Sweeper Cove and Kuluk Bay because of low levels of PCBs, a chemical insulator known to cause cancer in animals.

Other parts of the island are not yet ready to transfer. This summer as many as 80 contract workers will run metal detectors over the land in search of bombs and demolish about 50 dilapidated and mostly remote cabins, some dating back to the war, he said.

Mayor Agafon Krukoff said he's excited that Adak is moving toward getting the deed to its own land.

The island is taking one giant step after another, he said. In April 2001, Adak incorporated as a city. This past winter, commercial fishing boats flocked to waters around Adak, delivering up to 18 million pounds of cod to the local fish-processing plant.

The landings were subject to Adak's 3 percent local sales tax, meaning the cod pumped more than $110,000 into city coffers.

''We've been put on the map with that much fish caught,'' declared Krukoff, who hopes Adak can stand with Aleutian neighbors such as Dutch Harbor and Akutan as a fishing hub.

Don Giles, president of Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods Inc., which last year bought an interest in the Adak fish plant, said he sees potential there.

''It has a great chance to be a good, valuable port for us in fishing,'' he said. ''There's lot of cod out there.''

Adak hopes to put its airport and deep-water port to work as a fuel stop, charging a 2 percent tax on fuel transfers. In its military life, the island was off-limits to private planes, ships and boats.

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