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Environmental advisers say base is on track with cleanup efforts

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A team of Air Force and consulting scientists involved with the environmental cleanup program at Vandenberg expect the base's environmental cleanup to meet or exceed key milestones. 

The accelerated progress made at Vandenberg means base environmental officials are on track for early compliance with the Air Force goal of implementing "Remedy-in-Place" for more than 180 sites on base by 2012. The advisers believe the continuation of the focus on optimizing the monitoring of solvent and petroleum sites will set the stage for negotiations with State of California officials to review an increased volume of "closeout" efforts for base cleanup.

The recent expert review is part of a unique program sponsored by the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment to assist bases by providing an intense, week-long evaluation of cleanup efforts to ensure they are protective, efficient and timely. The Environmental Restoration Program Optimization review was sought out by Michael McElligott to accelerate the closure of sites that are poised to enter the final stages of environmental cleanup.

ERP-Os led to the closure of 45 specific polluted sites at Air Force bases in the last two years and have sped up the pace of closures by a minimum of five years across the board. The reviews promote cost-effective cleanups with an emphasis on effectiveness. This ensures cleanups are protective and promote a range of other health, community, administrative and pollution-reduction benefits.

The ERP-O team of engineers, scientists, regulatory specialists and water experts tour various base sites where contamination is being addressed, study reports and perform new analysis of information before briefing regulators, the base and other Air Force environmental officials after five days of careful review. In addition, they collaborate with base officials in discussing the recommendations with regulators and can also get out in the field to measure results upon request.

Based on their evaluation of Vandenberg, the ERP-O team recommended the base continue its long-standing practice of optimizing long-term monitoring wells while continuing to ensure that areas undergoing solvents and fuel cleanups make progress. The ERP-O experts also urged the base to place monitoring wells down the length of underground polluted areas instead of across their width to enhance cleanup, a practice that could benefit cleanup efforts at other bases as well.

The ERP-O team focused on the challenge of addressing solvents and fuel contamination under the flightline and other restricted areas. The base has 21 active cleanup sites, 109 areas of interest and 58 areas of concern, all of which are slated to meet the Air Force's Remedy-in-Place goal by 2012. The base's approach to cleaning up these areas has been effective to date and the ERP-O advisers urged the base to update missing information pictured in a "conceptual site model," which depicts the types of soil and the movement of underground water and pollutants. In combination with standardizing decision documents, these CSMs will help guide cleanup efforts as base managers prepare to discuss the closeout of cleanup efforts with the approval of the State of California regulators, the advisers said.

Vandenberg officials are successfully working with cleanup contractors and are well-ahead of the Air Force goal of having cleanups in place at all bases by 2012. As their work approaches finalization, the Vandenberg environmental team will begin planning for the future by preparing "exit strategies," which are plans to close out cleanup efforts for relevant sites. The process is challenging because of the need to meet both state and federal standards, and AFCEE is providing support to the base in addressing this with the relevant authorities.

"The ERP-O review points the way toward key steps that will improve the performance and management of the Air Force cleanup program, accelerate discussions with state regulators and foster a collaborative effort to meet program goals," said Matt Marrs, the AFCEE Restoration Program Management Office representative.

The ERP-O team recommended that planning now for closeout is warranted, especially as responsibility for the next phases of site cleanup will be assumed by AFCEE in 2009. Other ERP-O visits are being planned in 2008 for bases in Arizona, Washington, Utah and many other areas including some overseas locations. For more information on ERP-O programs, see the program description on the AFCEE Web site: http://www.afcee.af.mil/resources/restoration/rpo/index.asp.