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Work continues as fuel cleanup project at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield expands in scope

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FORT DRUM — The tabulation of fuel to be removed from underneath Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield may have increased, but post officials project they are still on track to clean the spill site within the next few years.

“We knew this would not be easy, and we knew it would not be quick,” said James M. Miller, the post’s environmental chief. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

Mr. Miller said the total of removed fuel so far is 203,000 gallons of the estimated 400,000 gallons that leaked from a fueling point for years and was discovered in 2006. The projection is higher than the estimate of 350,000 given last year, and the difference was explained as a result of the variability of the models used to calculate the spill.

“We’ll know the total when we’re done,” said James W. Corriveau, the post’s director of public works.

Mr. Miller said $25 million already has been spent on the extraction since work began in 2008. An additional $4.5 million is expected to be spent in fiscal year 2013, and Mr. Miller said the contract likely will be larger in fiscal year 2014, as the post looks to move toward steam-enhanced extraction.

The cleanup cost is being paid by the Defense Energy Support Center.

Cleanup crews are continuing their dual-phased extraction work, skimming fuel from the top of the spill and drawing contaminated water from under the fuel mass.

“You want to recover as much of the product as possible; then you have to attack the small amount of fuel that goes down into the lower-lying aquifer,” Mr. Miller said.

The water then has been treated with ozone at a newly installed groundwater treatment plant, which Mr. Miller said has improved its quality by several orders of magnitude.

Mr. Miller said crews will be able to expand their cleanup work as the temperature rises.

One positive aspect of the cleanup effort, Mr. Corriveau said, is that it hasn’t affected the training done by the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade as it prepares to deploy. The only change that had to be made was moving the parking of some brigade helicopters to account for piping work.

Mr. Miller said crews are on track to have the spill area cleared and to have the nearby groundwater clean by July 2017. He said the post has stayed current with every consent decree issued to the Army for the cleanup by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

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