In the early 1940s, the U.S. Department of Defense acquired approximately 1,000 acres near Fort Sumner, N.M., for an Army Air Field to train aircraft pilots during World War II. The site housed 3,000 soldiers and included a mechanics school, aircraft maintenance shops, subdepot, hospital, laboratory and a dental clinic. It also had a Prisoner of War camp.
Almost 70 years after the Defense Department declared the site excess and transferred it to the Village of Fort Sumner for use as a public airport, the Corps is actively engaged in its environmental restoration through the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program.
The Defense Department is responsible for environmental restoration of properties that the department used prior to October 1986 and designated as FUDS. The Army oversees the FUDS program, using the Corps of Engineers to identify eligible properties, investigate their condition and manage any required cleanup.
About a year ago, work began on the Fort Sumner site. The District conducted a preliminary assessment of how the property was used by the Army to determine if there was possible contamination. Enough indication of possible contamination was found to move the project to the Site Inspection phase.
A Site Inspection involves the collection and analysis of soil and groundwater samples to verify if there are actual contaminants present and what impact they have had on the environment. While at the site, inspectors also look for physical hazards such as open holes or derelict buildings that could pose a risk.
At Fort Sumner, the District contracted with an Alaskan small business contractor, Bristol Environmental, to conduct the site inspection and perform any necessary hazard removal with a focus on three areas.
The first is groundwater monitoring and soil sampling. A special device called a Bar-Cad multilevel groundwater monitoring system allows water samples to be taken from differing depths using a single hole.
Inspectors detected solvent contamination around the landfill area on the site. While the Army did not actively use the landfill, it was used under the county’s control. Now, the District is working to find the source of the contamination: did it come from the Army’s airfield activities or from later landfill use by the county?
Inspectors installed wells to monitor the groundwater upstream from the landfill. These wells will allow the Corps to pinpoint where the contamination is coming from.
Another concern is not chemical contamination, but physical hazards on the site, including a free standing chimney and foundation walls with exposed rebar, both of which will be removed. There are also open manholes which will be filled in.
The last major issue involves approximately 10 to 12 water wells that were left open and exposed from the 1940s. Aside from the potential physical risk to people from open holes, the water wells also provide a conduit for contamination into the groundwater.
When a well is abandoned in 2011, there are certain procedures which the person or organization abandoning the well legally must follow to prevent injury and contamination. However, these procedures weren’t required 70 years ago. Thus, as part of the cleanup of the site, the Corps is working to abandon these old wells according to today’s requirements.
The entire project is estimated to take another nine months, including the reports, said Michael Bone, a civil engineer in the District’s Environmental Project Management Section. Bone also credits his coworkers within the District for their excellent handling of the field work.
The village of Fort Sumner is one of the most cooperative property owners Bone said he has worked with in the FUDS program and that Fort Sumner has a “great bunch of people out there.”
For more information on the FUDS program check out: