Widespread cleanup efforts on horizon for Rantoul

Widespread cleanup efforts on horizon for Rantoul

RANTOUL – U.S. Air Force site officials have nearly completed the investigation phase of the former Chanute Air Force base, and they're ready to start a widespread cleanup of the most contaminated sites there.

"This is a milestone," said Paul Carroll, an environmental coordinator for the Air Force, at the quarterly Restoration Advisory Board meeting. "But there's a lot of work remaining."

Carroll said the Air Force plans to hire one contractor to complete work that includes removing truckloads of soil contaminated with a list of toxic chemicals that includes dioxin, arsenic and benzene. Eight companies are qualified to do the massive job, and representatives of seven of them toured the 2,125-acre former base in October, he said.

Three landfills on the base have been capped already, but a fourth one remains uncapped, and it's on the list. Carroll said buried fuel storage tanks must also be removed.

About two-thirds of the property has already been transferred to the village of Rantoul, and the remaining third remains in Air Force hands until it's cleaned up, although Carroll said some small parcels of that land are ready to transfer as soon as formalities are completed.

Sandra Smith of environmental engineering contractor URS, based at Austin, Texas, said a risk assessment of the property shows that the most contaminated part is the southeastern corner, about 18 acres where the fire training school was once located.

"I looked at a lot of sites at the base to identify the worst-case areas," said Smith, who laid a grid over the 18-acre site to help identify exactly where hazards to human health were located. She said her study pinpointed five worst-case lots and several bore-hole locations where investigators will move on to the next step, a feasibility study to plan remediation.

Carroll said feasibility studies will be completed on 17 sites on the main base called Operating Unit 1 – all of it except the 400-acre former fire training school – to identify the best cleanup methods for each site. Eighteen sites have been identified for studies in the entire southeast corner – Operating Unit 2.

Rob Lanter, a URS senior project manager, said those studies will be part of the contract let by the Air Force .

Carroll said work recently completed includes removing:

– A contaminated concrete pad and 500 cubic yards of soil at one building.

– An oil-water separator and 200 cubic yards of soil at a second building.

– An underground oil-water separator at a third building. No soil contamination was found there, he said.

Carroll said the Air Force plans to transfer 52 acres of ground at the airport to the village in December. The 36-acre Heritage Lake is planned for transfer in March and 167 acres in parcels all over the base are scheduled for transfer later next year.

He said his team started investigating the environmental status at the base, which closed in 1993, in 2002. Carroll said he hopes the remediation work will be done eight years after the contract is let.

So far, the cleanup has cost taxpayers about $112 million, Lanter said.

In a 1998 report to Congress, the Air Force estimated that the cleanup would cost $55.6 million and would be completed by the 2005 fiscal year.

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