KUNM

Air Force Will Miss Cleanup Deadline

Sep 23, 2014

 

Cleanup of the fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base is beginning to pick up steam.
Credit NMED, not to scale

On Monday a legislative committee heard updates from stakeholders about progress on the fuel spill cleanup at Kirtland Air Force Base.  

At the end of the day lawmakers said it's important to focus on the present moment and look at what's being accomplished, instead of lamenting mistakes from the past.

In the 90's the Air Force acknowledged that millions of gallons of carcinogenic aviation fuel had been leaking underground for decades, oozing into Albuquerque's aquifer.

Since then cleanup of the mess has been painstakingly slow, and some models indicate that the city's drinking water wells could become contaminated within the next few years if nothing is done.

But the Air Force Civil Engineering Department says they've made cleanup of the spill their top priority, and have brought in both the manpower and the cash to finally get the job done.  

However the state environment department set a deadline for the base to begin pumping contaminated water out of the ground by the end of the year - a deadline the Air Force isn't meeting. New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn says the consequences for missing that date haven't been determined yet.

"If between now and December the Air Force is doing nothing, or they're just complaining about paperwork or failure to understand permitting deadlines, then the consequences will be more severe than if the Air Force is out digging all the extraction wells that are necessary to install the treatment system," Flynn said. "Their actions over the next three months are going to really govern exactly what types of consequences there will be for missing that deadline at the end of December."

The Air Force says the extraction system will be fully up and running by next summer.

The New Mexico Environment Department and the US Air Force will host a public meeting on cleanup of the fuel spill next month.