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Fuel Cleanup at Base May Cost $100M

By John Fleck
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          The cost of cleaning up a jet fuel leak at Kirtland Air Force Base eventually could top $100 million, the head of the New Mexico Environment Department said Wednesday.
        Environment Secretary Ron Curry's comment came after a meeting this week with a top Air Force official visiting New Mexico to discuss the Air Force's response to the leak.
        The Air Force estimates that between 1 million and 2 million gallons leaked. The Environment Department calculates that the size of the leak could be as high as 8 million gallons.
        The relationship between the Air Force and the Environment Department over the cleanup has been contentious in recent months, but Curry said he was optimistic about progress after a meeting with Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers.
        The situation is helped by an additional $15 million the Air Force has committed to spend this fiscal year on the cleanup, Curry said. "This problem could end up at a $100 million by the time it's done," so the additional money helps, Curry said.
        The meeting follows an intervention by members of New Mexico's congressional delegation after a testy series of letters from the Environment Department to Kirtland officials regarding an alleged lack of progress on cleaning up the leak.
        Air Force officials first noticed the leak, at the base's bulk jet fuel loading facility, in 1999. The area where the leak happened is just south of Bullhead Park on Albuquerque's south side. Officials believe the fuel had been slowly soaking into the ground for decades.
        Initial steps to stop the leak were successful, but it was not until 2007 that the Air Force realized some of the jet fuel had reached Albuquerque groundwater and was moving toward two municipal water well fields.
        No contamination has been detected in any drinking water wells, and officials say the threat is not imminent. But if the flow is not stopped, they say, important well fields serving Albuquerque's south side would eventually have to be shut down.
        The Environment Department, in a pair of letters sent in April and May, charged the Air Force with moving too slowly. Air Force officials say they have done everything asked of them by the Environment Department to date.
        Air Force spokesman Gary Strasburg agreed this week's meetings in New Mexico between Assistant Secretary Yonkers and Curry were productive.
        "Mr. Yonkers is pleased with what is going on," Strasburg said.
        Curry described the Air Force's approach following the congressional intervention and his meeting with Yonkers as showing "very much a 'can do attitude.' "
        Curry said the Air Force has agreed to meet a June 22 Environment Department deadline to turn in plans for monitoring and cleanup.
        Kirtland spokesman John Cochran said Wednesday he could not confirm Curry's estimate of an eventual $100 million cleanup cost.

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