Taxpayers have spent close to $100 million on the Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill cleanup, and that may be just the start for a project that could take well over another decade to complete.
During a public meeting Thursday about spill cleanup activities, Adria Bodour, the Air Force’s lead scientist on the project, said $9 million was spent between 2000 and 2010 and $90 million between 2010 and 2015. In the past, officials had said costs could exceed $50 million.
Bodour said Congress allocates money annually for the Department of Defense to spend on cleanup projects. The DOD doles those funds out to the three military service branches for use in their respective restoration projects.
“Once we get our money from the Air Force, it is fenced in,” Bodour said. “That money can’t be used for anything else.”
The fuel leak was first detected in 1999. Estimates on the quantity of the spilled fuel range from 6 million to 24 million gallons. The greatest fear has been that the spill would contaminate Southeast Heights drinking water wells, and the biggest frustration has been the time it has taken to start cleaning it up.
But last month, the first extraction well began pulling contaminated water out of the ground and feeding it to a filtering system on the Air Force base. That extraction well is expected to be the first of three wells pumping out tainted water before the end of the year. Another four extraction wells are scheduled for 2016.
Bodour would not hazard a ballpark figure on what the total project would cost, but she said she is developing a best estimate.
“All our (cleanup) sites do a cost-estimate process for the project life cycle – a cost to completion,” she said. “I’m in the process of doing this for this site.”
Bodour said she is comfortable in preparing such an assessment now because the Air Force and the New Mexico Environment Department have forged a solid partnership in dealing with cleanup efforts.
Bodour, a civilian with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio, Texas, and Dennis McQuillan, a geologist with the state Environment Department, took the lead in Thursday evening’s presentation in the African American Performing Arts Center at Expo New Mexico. More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was preceded by a poster session detailing various aspects of the cleanup project.
McQuillan told those attending that the first extraction well, in a church parking lot at 6200 Gibson SE, has removed 1.1 million gallons of spill-tainted water since it started pumping on June 4. The extracted water is piped to the Air Force base, where an activated carbon-filter system rids it of ethylene dibromide, or EDB, an aviation gasoline additive.
The cleaned water is being used to irrigate the KAFB golf course.
Bodour said that during the winter months, instead of using the water to irrigate the golf course, it will be percolated back into the aquifer.
“You can’t irrigate in the winter, because pipes freeze and you’ll damage the infrastructure,” she said.
According to the New Mexico Environment Department, several methods are being considered for putting the water back into the aquifer.
More drilling is set for this fall in an area between San Pedro Drive and Louisiana Boulevard and from just south of Gibson Boulevard north to Kathryn Avenue.
Plans call for two extraction wells, three monitoring wells intended to define the northern extent of the EDB plume and an observation well designed to monitor the performance of the first extraction well to be drilled in that area. More than three dozen monitoring wells have been drilled to date but no contamination has been detected near drinking water wells.
Diane Agnew of CB&I, a cleanup project contractor, said people living in the targeted area can expect to see the first rig to be used for the next round of drilling to arrive by Aug. 3.