Public hearing set on cleanup of former base

RANTOUL – Public hearings will be held in Rantoul sometime in May so that citizens can review and comment on proposed cleanup projects at the old Chanute Air Force Base.

For the most part the work, which officials want to begin this summer, involves removing 6 inches to 1 foot of soil from various locations around the base. But at the site of the base's laundromat building, adjacent to the Lincoln's Challenge property, dry cleaning solvents have been found in the soils around and beneath the building, according to Howard Sparrow, an engineer with Shaw Environmental Inc. Removing those solvents may require demolishing the building, he said.

Shaw Environmental, a South Carolina firm, has a $38.7 million contract to remedy environmental problems at the old base that was closed by the Air Force in 1993.

Similar problems with soil and shallow groundwater contamination have been found at nine other sites on the base. In some cases, according to Amar Bumb, a hydrogeologist with Shaw, the problem is to be remedied by using naturally occurring microorganisms that break down the chemicals.

Individual plans for the various sites where cleanup is to begin this year soon will be published and made available for public review at the Rantoul Public Library, 106 W. Flessner Ave., Rantoul.

In some instances, Sparrow said, the process of cleaning up hazardous chemicals on the base could take another four years. Shaw expects to finish cleaning up the Chanute property and to turn it over to the village of Rantoul by 2016.

It's important that Rantoul residents understand the extent of the work being done on the base and that they have a chance to review it, said Bruce Sandahl, Rantoul's village administrator.

"Everyone needs to understand that we're ending up with this property forever. We have to understand what the actions are and what the risks and benefits are," Sandahl said. "We need to make sure that we're not missing anything and that we really understand, when you leave, what you're leaving."

Meanwhile, the transfer of some 170 acres of Chanute property, including the land now used by Lincoln's Challenge, could occur in the next few months, said Paul Carroll, an environmental coordinator for the Air Force Real Property Agency.

Lincoln's Challenge, an Illinois National Guard program for at-risk teenagers, hopes to build a virtually all-new campus on the Chanute property. Last year's state construction program approved by the Legislature included $38 million for Lincoln's Challenge.

But in order to begin the work, the property must be transferred from the federal government to the village of Rantoul.

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