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Kirtland cleanup effort faces lawsuit claiming ‘glacial pace’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Notice of an intent to sue the Air Force for dragging its feet in the Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill cleanup was filed Monday by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, prompting strong defenses of the project’s progress by the state Environment Department and the Air Force.

The letter announcing the intent to sue was filed on behalf of the SouthWest Organizing Project, state Sens. Cisco McSorley and Mimi Stewart and four individual residents of Albuquerque.

In the letter, the plaintiffs made known their intent to sue the Air Force due to the “glacial pace” toward cleanup of the spill.

The fuel leak, discovered in 1999, created a plume of contaminated groundwater that threatens drinking water wells in the Southeast Heights.

“The Air Force is not seriously considering public input on the cleanup plan, has no enforceable benchmarks or deadlines for remediation, and is not overseen by an independent regulator,” said Douglas Meiklejohn, executive director of the NMELC and lead counsel in the case. “Efforts to address the spill so far have consisted of wastefully overspending on research instead of making progress on actual cleanup.”

Juan Reynosa, environmental justice organizer for SWOP, said he is dumbfounded at how little cleanup is being done.

Ryan Flynn, secretary of the state Environment Department, said the plaintiffs should be ashamed of themselves for filing a frivolous lawsuit. He said great strides have been made in the cleanup project over the last two years.

“Since June, the first extraction well has sent 13 million gallons of contaminated water to a filtering system for cleaning,” he said. “Two additional extraction wells will be on line before the end of December. We have removed 5,000 tons of soil contaminated with fuel oil from the site area. We have extracted 570,000 gallons of contaminated soil vapor.”

Mark Kinkade, public affairs chief for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, also cited recent progress in the cleanup effort and said the Air Force had exceeded all requirements for public outreach and participation.

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