Workers begin Elmendorf cleanup

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A piece of buried history has unexpectedly cropped up on Elmendorf Air Force Base, forcing officials to clean up a newly found pocket of contaminated soil.

Workers on Monday began digging deeper into a housing construction site near the Boniface Gate to determine the extent of contamination first discovered two weeks ago when excavators stumbled upon diesel-soaked soil and demolished Quonset huts.

The mess appears to be relatively small and narrowly contained in four locations and doesn't present any danger, said John Mahaffey, an environmental program manager for the U.S Air Force.

The lead-based paint and asbestos found among the Quonset remnants are ''relatively pedestrian compounds,'' Mahaffey added. ''Our job is to abate all of those and get them out of there so there won't be any long-term risk to humans or ecological (damage).''

A half-dozen workers who complained of lightheadedness when they smelled fumes on June 11 have not gotten sick or missed work, Mahaffey said.

The 90-acre site is being developed for 372 new base housing units. The Air Force has leased it for 50 years to a private contractor, Aurora Military Housing. The work should be completed by December 2002, officials said.

The contamination was found on the site where the second phase will be developed, and the cleanup will cause no construction delays, Mahaffey said.

The Air Force cannot pinpoint when the Quonset huts were bulldozed into a trench on the site, said Ted Franklin, Elmendorf's program manager for the housing project.

The buildings appear in a photo taken in 1965. By 1972, they were gone. Franklin speculated that the great earthquake of 1964 may have damaged the huts. The urgency of the Cold War may have forced the military to simply bury the buildings rather than take the time to remove them, he said.

Cleanup costs are not yet known, but the environmental assessment will cost $150,000, said Mahaffey. The Air Force will pay all costs.

The base holds dozens of contaminated sites, including 13 old landfills.

''It's not unusual to run across stuff like this on Elmendorf,'' Franklin said. ''In fact, it's not unusual across the whole state of Alaska.''

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