Military waste assessment nears end in Tanacross

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) A smoke grenade found last week near Tanacross was exploded Monday by Eielson Air Force Base technicians, a dramatic find in a yearlong effort to assess environmental impact of military action in the area.

The project's focus is not uncovering ordnance, but village project manager Adam Martin said Tanacross may now seek to look specifically for explosives and munitions.

''Since this live grenade was found, there's probably others like it,'' he said.

Tanana is a village of about 150 people 12 miles northwest of Tok.

The assessment project ends this month, but the village and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are in talks to begin a new two-year cooperative agreement to continue the work.

Tanacross' village-owned company, Dihthaad Global Services, was hired to scour 8,000 acres, looking for old military structures, refuse, abandoned drums, soil contamination and other leftovers that could affect the environment.

About $10 million a year is spent on efforts such as the Tanacross project through the Department of Defense's Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program. The Army Corps of Engineers oversees the program in Alaska.

Tanacross is one of nine villages in Alaska with whom the Department of Defense is considering entering cooperative agreements, according to Suzanne Beauchamp, Formerly Used Defense Site program manager for the Corps of Engineers. The other villages are Tanana, Healy Lake, Gambell, Barrow, Evansville, Iliamna, Afognak and Qawalangin.

Alaska typically has received 25 to 30 percent of the nationwide funding in recent years, said Shah Alam, a project manager for NALEMP.

Martin said the company's crew of 24 tribal members has found 55-gallon drums and artillery casings along with lots of trash.

''The military had indicated that they were going to leave the area better than they found it in these reports that we found in the national archives,'' Martin said. ''But in reality, I'd say they did very little trash removal because there are literally hundreds of piles of debris ranging in size from a 100 square feet to 100-by-100-foot piles.''

The village's work could eventually include cleanup efforts such as moving refuse further to a landfill.

Tanacross has an oral history of villagers finding remnants from the military's stay over the years, but there are no known reports of serious injury, Martin said.

Martin said the grenade may have come from training operations in the 1960s, such as a 1962 operation that brought 8,000 soldiers to the area for months.

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