Fort Yukon Natives unhappy with asbestos disposal near village

Posted: Friday, September 29, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Air Force has finished burying some asbestos-contaminated debris near Fort Yukon and Native leaders there aren't happy about it.

''This is right in our back door,'' said Cheryl Williams, first chief of the Native Village of Fort Yukon. ''They might as well have buried it in our back yards.''

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a permit for the burial last week, saying the Air Force's disposal plan exceeded state standards and presented no demonstrable harm.

''The Air Force is attempting to do the responsible thing by demolishing and disposing of their debris in a safe manner and at reasonable cost,'' DEC environmental specialist Nancy Sonafrank wrote in issuing the permit.

The Air Force completed the work Saturday, burying the material in 47 steel containers on military land under two feet of soil.

All of the hazardous asbestos was sent to a Navy shipyard in Puget Sound and was destroyed, the Air Force said.

The rest of the asbestos will not be released into the air because it's bound into other materials, like floor tiles and roofing shingles, state officials said.

The debris came from several buildings that had been demolished at an old White Alice radar site near Fort Yukon.

Officials with the Native Village of Fort Yukon fought the burial.

They want the Air Force to remove the containers from the landfill and ship them away. They contend the contaminated material is buried only a half-mile upriver from the village in a place where animals can dig it up.

Legal action is the next step, they said.

''The grounds we were thinking of is the (Air Force's) lack of acknowledging the government-to-government relationship,'' Angela Ludwick, executive director of the Native Village of Fort Yukon, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The Air Force said it worked closely with the community, the Native village and state and federal regulatory agencies during the cleanup.

Most of the parties agreed that burying the debris was the safest and most prudent course of action, the Air Force said.

''The Air Force takes its stewardship of the environment seriously,'' said Col. Mike Wyka, commander of the 611th Air Support Group at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The Air Force will replant the area next summer to prevent erosion.

The landfill will be monitored for 10 years.

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