Navy cleanup cost $85 million

More than 10 years and $85 million into the environmental cleanup at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station sites, there’s still more work to do to come into total compliance with Superfund federal regulations.

But, the work is progressing, indefinitely, toward freeing soil and groundwater from contaminates that built up over decades from landfills, hazardous material waste sites and training grounds on base property.

Many of the sites are restored to a healthy environmental state, but are still monitored and controlled, said base environmental officials to the Restoration Advisory Board at its meeting on Thursday.

While the Superfund is rumored to be running out of money for such projects, funding for cleanup of military installations comes from a different source, said John Mosher, an environmental protection specialist for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Such funding comes from the defense budget and there is money to continue the cleanup here, and at other bases across the country, until the job is done.

Much of the $85 million already spent has gone to civilian contractors hired by the Navy to do the job. One such contractor is Earthworks Environmental of Oak Harbor, owned by Kathy Lester. Lester’s company is extracting and treating ground water at a site known as Area 6. Area 6 had been used as a landfill for municipal wastes and hazardous wastes from 1969 to 1992.

“We’re getting there,” Mosher said of Area 6. “That cleanup will continue for a while.”

Other remedies used at various sites on military property include removal of contaminated soils, covering contaminated areas with “caps,” which prevent rainwater from seeping in and spreading the contamination, and sometimes letting nature take its course on its own.

Sometimes the invasion required to cleanup an area may cause more harm than good, and it is better to leave a site alone, untouched but monitored. Over time the area will regenerate, Mosher said.

All of the work is completed in cooperation and under the supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Perhaps the most effective method of environmental protection learned from the more than decade-long cleanup is prevention.

“We don’t do things the way we used to,” Mosher said.

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has procedures in place in all areas of operation that prevent contamination and pollution, Mosher said.

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