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FUDS Project Manager Talks To KUCB About Restoration Efforts

Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing its work on Unalaska's Formerly Used Defense Sites. 

Rena Flint is the project manager for the Amaknak FUDS, a 190-thousand-acre site that fans out from Amaknak Island and the city of Unalaska. She traveled to Unalaska over the weekend to work with local leaders and community members on contamination cleanup efforts.

KUCB's Theo Greenly sat down with Flint to hear more about the FUDS project.

For more detailed reports about Unalaska's Formerly Used Defense Sites, visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.

The next Restoration Advisory Board meeting will take place virtually on Friday, Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. You can find upcoming FUDS events on our Community Calendar.


KUCB: Can you tell me a little bit about the work you're doing at the Amaknak FUDS.

FLINT: So just to kind of set the stage, Formerly Used Defense Sites are a wide region, each one, so Amaknak FUDS is 190,000 acres, and in World War II there was a military buildup in this area. And you mentioned Captain's Bay dock, which is a Chemical Agent Identification Set project within the Amaknak FUDS. And you mentioned Strawberry Hill landfill, which is an asbestos landfill within the Amaknak FUDS. But specifically I'm here because we stood up our Restoration Advisory Board in November, this past November, and this is our fourth RAB meeting, and —

KUCB: And sorry, the Restoration Advisory Board is made up of members of the community?

FLINT: Community, yeah. So in the last, this is now our fourth Restoration Advisory Board meeting. And in the last meeting, May 6, the board identified community priority to focus on Unalaska Valley.

KUCB: So can you tell me a little bit more about these sites?

FLINT: So last night at our Restoration Advisory Board meeting, we talked about these seven   sites to include underground storage tanks from heating oil for buildings that existed in World War II. So, the Qawalangin Tribe is working on removal of the debris from these blown over buildings and the concrete foundations and whatnot that exist in the valley. And FUDS, Formerly Used Defense Sites program, is working in tandem to remove the petroleum-contaminated soil.

KUCB: So what is the concern there? What is the danger for Unalaskans with this, you know, petroleum contaminated soil?

FLINT: Yeah. So, exposure to petroleum contaminated soil ranges from inhalation, ingestion, dermal exposure, so these are some of the pathways where people could come into contact with contaminants that could be harmful.

KUCB: Okay, and so harmful how?

FLINT: Yeah, so petroleum is carcinogenic, but you need the right combination of level. So concentration in soil or water, and you need an exposure pathway in order — and you need a duration. So acute exposure to soil, not going to really cause a problem, but a chronic exposure could.

KUCB: Now what about if any of that leaches into the groundwater?

FLINT: Yeah, so groundwater we monitor with groundwater monitoring wells, and temporary well points, have some in the valley. And basically, the fate and transport of the spills from these underground storage tanks, the areas are quite small, and the municipal drinking water supply is well away from them. So unless you were to install a private drinking water well, you're not exposed.

KUCB: Can it make it into the streams. I mean, a lot of people here are very active hiking in the tundra and camping and, you know, take water from these naturally occurring water sources. Is there any concern there?

FLINT: Absolutely, yeah, it could make it into the streams. We did the bulk of this environmental remediation work in the '90s and early 2000s. And we really hit it hard back then. So what we have remaining today is limited areas where we're just, you know, polishing up our cleanup action. And back, several of the sites we talked about last night, back in the '90s and early 2000s, we collected sediment and surface water samples to evaluate what may have migrated to that sensitive area. I'm thinking of one site in particular, Underground Storage Tank 3065. We have some sediment and surface water data that did not exceed standards. Yeah, and so not exceeding standards back in the '90s and early 2000s, petroleum contamination naturally attenuates over time. So with 20 years time, we would not expect a World War II release to have increased.

KUCB: Some of the solutions that we've been talking about have been treating the soil, removing the soil, I guess some of these sites, it's not so easy to do that. So can you talk a little bit about what you do when you run into the kinds of situations where removal or treatment isn't possible? You know, many of those cases the Corps recommends a covenant. How does that work?

FLINT: Yeah, absolutely. So petroleum contaminated soil remediation. Yeah, you can tackle it in situ, you can do it ex situ, so you can remove it, you can send it off site to a burner, burning the soil remediates it. We've done any combination of off-site transport and on-site thermal treatment, and then, you know, replace it back in the hole. But yeah, and like I said, in the '90s and early 2000s, we hit these areas hard. And we reached an impasse on a few of them. So, you know, that impasse could range from bedrock to, you know, a structure in the way, a foundation or an existing building or even a new building on top of. So in those cases, where the concentrations are above a migration to groundwater cleanup standard, but below a human health standard. So —

KUCB: So let me just hop in real quick. So basically, you're saying if the concentration level is low enough that —

FLINT: You're not going to eat it or sniff it. 

KUCB: If it's not a danger to someone who ingests it or inhales it, but there is a high enough concentration that it could be dangerous if it got into the groundwater. 

FLINT: Right. 

KUCB: Okay. So that's, that's the level that we're talking about. 

FLINT: Yeah. And so then we would look to work with the landowner and interested stakeholders to place a covenant that says, "Do not install a drinking water well, here at this specific location, where there is a limited area of petroleum contaminated soil, if it were to migrate to water, you wouldn't want to drink that water."

KUCB: Okay, so it sounds like that the solution there, then this covenant is basically a warning sign. But that doesn't really solve the problem does it? I mean, those chemicals are still in the ground.

FLINT: It's a warning sign, not a physical sign. So it would be recorded with the Department of Natural Resources Recorder's Office, similar to how you record your title on your property. So not an actual physical sign, but a sign that's available in a public database, and it runs with the land. So if you were to sell the property, the new owner would know about it. And to say that it doesn't exactly solve the problem is a little bit misleading, because it's an informational warning. And it's a restriction, a covenant on the land, you cannot install a drinking water well here. Many of these areas are hooked up to municipal water anyway. So it's a little bit of a double protection. But don't install a drinking water well here, you wouldn't want to, which solves the problem of the exposure. So no exposure, no risk.

KUCB: And you're saying that this is in perpetuity,

FLINT: Until cleanup complete. And so we could come back and evaluate the soil, the concentrations will attenuate over time. So, you know, as concentrations reduce below the migration to groundwater cleanup level, we would rerecord overtop of the existing environmental covenant to say "no more covenant; you can install a drinking water well if you want to."

KUCB: Gotcha. So the Corps has been doing cleanups in the area since I believe the '80s or so. Is that about right? 

FLINT: Yeah. Yep.

KUCB: Okay, so it's been over 30 years. When do you think everybody is going to look contentedly upon the work and say, "Okay, we did it. We're done, Unalaska is good to go"?

FLINT: Thank you for the question. So that's absolutely right. The Corps has been working on Amaknak FUDS since before the formal formation of the FUDS program. So, um, so we, we started with debris removal. And then we continued on to focus on soil and water contamination. And so what's taking so long? So I'm looking at a table here. And so I have here in the RAB handouts, a response snapshot, so snapshot by the numbers. So I have 11 active projects in the Amaknak FUDS. And the completion dates range from anywhere between two and 10 years, depending on the response and the, the place in the cleanup process we are on those sites. So the RAB identified Unalaska Valley as top priority, so we're going to try to get that one cleaned up first. And then followed by Little South America, Summer Bay/Humpy Cove, Mount Ballyhoo, and Pyramid Valley/Port Levasheff. And kind of the longer end of the cleanup timeline is the Range Complex No. 1, and that is the military munitions project. And also last night during the Restoration Advisory Board meeting, we talked about data gathering. So working with the police chief, and I'm working with Ounalaska Corporation, and the RAB and the community to, number one, provide training. So the Recognize Report Retreat training for avoidance of unexploded ordnance. And number two, do some data gathering to figure out what's been found in the past and what we might find in the form of unexploded ordnance in the future. And the reason for the longer timeline for the Range Complex No. 1 is that we're in the earlier stages of the cleanup process. So we don't know that much about the area. So following this data gathering, I would like to enter into the RIFS, the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study phase, to identify the remedial alternative, the removal action, and where and how and what do we have here?

KUCB: So a lot of work ahead of us. But plans are in place to do it. 

FLINT: Yes. 

KUCB: Can people get involved?

FLINT: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for the question. So there are so many ways to get involved, including attending a RAB. I have a board, but all of our board meetings are open to the public. So the next Restoration Advisory Board meeting is Aug. 13 from 6-8 p.m. That'll be a virtual meeting. So over the phone and call-in information will be distributed in the form of email RAB members community. And we have a notice in the newspaper for that, and I'll get those dates over here to Theo. As well as we have an upcoming Recognize Report Retreat safety training, and that's coming up end of the month, August. 

KUCB: Great. Thanks so much for your time. 

FLINT: Thanks.

That was Rena Flint from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talking to KUCB's Theo Greenly.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
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