Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Connecticut Submarine Base a 'Minefield' of Pollution

Yahoo! News
Conn. Sub Base a 'Minefield' of Pollution

By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer

For decades, the land around the Navy's oldest submarine base was a
dumping ground for whatever it needed to dispose of: sulfuric acid,
torpedo fuel, waste oil and incinerator ash. Now the Pentagon has
proposed closing the base, leaving a huge swath of land that contains
dozens of acres of polluted soil and groundwater, an Associated Press
review of more than 1,000 pages of government documents found.

The Submarine Base New London is among at least seven military bases
proposed for closure this year that are polluted, and the Pentagon has
estimated it will cost more than $700 million to clean them.

Even some areas that already have been cleaned could pose health risks
to construction workers and future residents if the Groton base were to
close, the military, state and federal environmental documents show.

Although elected officials have promised to fight the base closure,
which they estimate could cost Connecticut 31,500 jobs and $2 billion a
year in personal income, Groton officials have already starting
thinking about what might replace it.

"I know we'll hear proposals for a waterfront district: parks, hotel,
entertainment, condos, retail district and housing," said Paulann H.
Sheets, a Groton town councilor and environmental attorney.

But while the Navy pledges $23.9 million toward cleaning the base it
opened as a naval station in 1868, officials said Wednesday that
cleanup would only be to industrial standards. State officials fear the
money won't be nearly enough to make the land fit for residential or
recreational use.

"That's not a redevelopment opportunity, that's a minefield of
contamination," said Gina McCarthy, commissioner of the state
Department of Environmental Protection.

The military has a history of shutting down bases and leaving behind
contaminated land. Thirty-four bases closed since 1988 are on the
Superfund list of worst toxic waste sites, and none is completely
cleaned yet.

In its most recent Defense Environmental Programs report, an annual
submission to Congress that outlines the Pentagon's environmental
efforts, the Pentagon estimated it would cost more than $700 million to
clean the polluted bases proposed for closure.

Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, where petroleum,
solvents and pesticides have contaminated the soil and water, is part
of a military compound that requires $538 million in cleanup, according
to the report. The Concord, Calif., Naval Weapons Station and the
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, also are heavily polluted.

The Navy has already spent $57.6 million cleaning the Groton base.
Crews have sealed landfills, cleaned acres of wetlands and hauled away
tons of soil contaminated with arsenic, PCBs, and the pesticide DDT.

Some areas, such as a 14,000-gallon battery acid tank buried during
World War II, have been cleaned to residential standards, but others
have been treated with a combination of cleanup and land-use
restrictions that presume the land will never be used for residential

A huge landfill containing battery acid and ash, for example, was
capped in 1997 after the Navy decided excavation was too expensive,
Navy environmental reports show. Today, the landfill is paved over,
digging is prohibited and access is restricted.

The base's waterfront, potentially its most valuable land, also is the
most polluted. Elevated levels of cancer-causing chemicals were
detected near a solvent-storage building and contractors warned that
pregnant women and small children were at risk for lead exposure in the
area, according to a 2001 environmental report.

Because the waterfront area is paved and heavily developed, the Navy
said there are no immediate health threats. But many Navy reports
presume the base will remain in operation, not be opened to

Jim Woolford, head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Federal
Facilities Restoration & Reuse Office, said a base shutdown could even
speed up environmental cleanup.

"The initial reaction is, 'How can we do this?'" Woolford said. "But
there are tremendous success stories of DoD working with the community
and developers coming in and transforming these bases, even the ones
that were dirty."

Waterfront cleanup is scheduled to begin in 2008, but the Navy has told
the EPA that, because of national security concerns, it will try to
avoid full-scale excavation and consider spot-cleaning, containing
contamination and restricting access.

"That can be a very low-cost venture, but it doesn't mean you can ever
redevelop that property," McCarthy said.

originally published May 29, 2005