'Back to brown' : Group plans to remove eye sore

Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Kenai Natives Association will begin the removal of former Wildwood Air Force Base operations building between the end of July and August.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Gabe Juliussen stands in an opening in a former Wildwood Station building on Kenai Natives Association land north of Kenai. The association is working to remove the building. "The goal is to turn it back into brown ground," Juliussen, the project's manager, said.

Kenaitze Indian Tribe Environmental Coordinator Brenda Trefon said that the structure, referred to as Building 100, has become a target of graffiti and vandalism. Trefon said that the first phase of the project will focus on removing the concrete structure and hauling it to landfills. The environmental coordinator said that the tribal government will recycle most of the metal, but the concrete cannot be used again.

"The quality isn't there," she said. "It's very old."

The project currently has an approximately $600,000 budget, but that may change as the tribal government signs more contractors. Trefon said that the demolition plans have been in the works for nearly three years now.

She said that the Native association does not want to re-develop the land until an assessment of the water and soil contamination is complete.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Project Manager Debra Caillouet said that the property around the building has been contaminated by metals and diesel-like chemicals, but not with enough concentrations to warrant a state clean up.

Trefon claims that chemical contamination prevents the tribal government from replanting vegetation that typically grows in the area. She said that there are plans to test the ground underneath Building 100's foundation after the removal is complete to check for additional toxins.

"Once the ground has a clean bill of health the (association) can use it for whatever it wants," said Trefon.

DEC Environmental Specialist Marty Brewer said that the contamination does not meet the department's standard for an ingestion level risk, meaning animals that ingest the vegetation or humans that come into contact with the dirt aren't likely to suffer side effects.

Regardless of the testing, Trefon said that she's still concerned about hunters who kill animals at the site.

"When you're feeding your family, you could be those passing those on," she said.

The Natives association received the base in 1974 as part of the Alaska Native Claims and Settlement Act. The state leased a portion of the base in 1983 and built the present Wildwood Correctional Center. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe will manage the project because the funding comes from the Department of Defense Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program. The department only funds programs managed by federally recognized tribes or on lands used by Native groups, such as the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, instead of the for-profit Natives Association

Kenai Natives Association Vice Chair Diana Zirul said that teenagers frequently trespass on the unused building, making it an attractive nuisance.

"It's got some of the best graffiti on the Peninsula," Zirul chuckled.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.

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