ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cleanup of the Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill, which has already cost taxpayers $100 million, may cost $125 million more, the Air Force’s lead scientist on the project said.
Adria Bodour said she is still in the process of nailing down a solid “cost to completion” estimate for the project, which has involved the drilling of wells, the construction of systems for removing contaminants from soil and filtering them out of groundwater and also extensive data collection and analysis.
“I will have a figure I am more confident in by January,” Bodour told the Journal Saturday during a public tour of cleanup-project sites on and near the Air Force base. “But I think a conservative high estimate is $125 million more.”
Bodour is a civilian with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio, Texas. During a July public meeting in Albuquerque, she said the cleanup project had already cost $99 million, $9 million spent between 2000 and 2010 and $90 million between 2010 and July’s meeting.
A lot of work has been done since July, including the drilling of two new wells – one at California and Gibson SE, the other at Georgia and Anderson SE – which will extract contaminated groundwater and feed it to a filtering system for cleaning.
Dennis McQuillan, chief scientist with the New Mexico Environment Department, said the two new extraction wells should be up and running by the end of the year. The new wells join the first extraction well, which is in a church parking lot at 6200 Gibson SE and started pulling tainted water out of the ground in June.
The fuel leak is believed to have been seeping into the ground for decades before it was discovered in 1999. A plume of contaminated groundwater spreads out from the Air Force base across Gibson and into an area bordered by San Pedro, Kathryn and Louisiana.
The greatest concern has been that the spill would poison drinking water wells in the Southeast Heights. During Saturday’s tour, McQuillan said contaminated water has not been detected in municipal, Veterans Affairs or Air Force base wells in the area.
Bodour said it will take time as well as money to complete the cleanup job.
“Do I think we can go back to the way it was before?” she said. “Yeah, I do. Do I think it is going to happen tomorrow? No. We are probably looking at another 20 years of work.”