State, feds reach agreement on cleanup of Adak

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A plan for how the U.S. Navy will find and clean up unexploded ordnance on Adak Island has been signed by state and federal officials.

The agreement was seen as a crucial step for transforming what was once a Cold War Navy base into a town where the regional Native corporation will service the fishing, shipping, tourism and air cargo industries.

''I think what's most unusual about this is the citizen involvement,'' said Michelle Brown, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, after a signing ceremony Tuesday. ''Normally you have the military deciding everything.''

For instance, the restoration advisory board identified one former military range as a place where future residents might want to camp or go berry picking. So Navy technicians will now make sure that ground is safe to the depth of a tent stake, about 18 inches down.

''This really is a turning point in the ordnance cleanup arena nationally,'' said Jennifer Roberts, DEC manager of the contaminated sites program and the state official who signed the agreement. ''I'm quite proud.''

Located about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage in the Aleutians, Adak was established as a base to fight the Japanese invasion of Kiska and Attu during World War II. Later, it became a Naval Air Facility with submarine hunting airplanes and high-tech listening posts.

As many as 6,000 people had lived on the island when it was a military installation. The Navy shut down its base there in 1997, triggering a multimillion dollar effort to clean up debris and contamination left by 55 years of military use.

While much of the remediation has focused on fuel spills and other chemical problems, a critical task involved finding and removing old ordnance.

So far, the Navy has spent about $36 million on more than 100 sites on Adak. The agreement signed Tuesday calls for cleanup of munitions at another 27, a project that will probably cost another $20 million, according to Mark Murphy, lead project manager for the Navy.

David Jensen, president of The Aleut Corporation., and Cathy Villa, co-chair of the Adak Restoration Advisory Board, both praised the new agreement, saying it would speed up the process of transferring about 47,000 acres and facilities of the former base into Aleut and local government ownership.

''I do think that people can feel safe there now,'' said Villa, who lived on Adak for two-and-half years with her husband and two sons while working for the Aleut corporation as a quality control specialist. ''There are places where access is blocked, but it's a safe place to live. It was really neat.''

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