Remediation Plans Underway for 3 Air Base Parcels

Cleanup of two landfills and a former fire training center at Willow Grove air base will continue indefinitely.

The yellow areas designate active remediation sites at the former Willow Grove air base.
The yellow areas designate active remediation sites at the former Willow Grove air base.
The cleanup, transfer and redevelopment of 862 acres of Willow Grove air base could be likened to assembling a massive puzzle. Each piece is interdependent on the next and the first pieces pave the way for those following.

Such is the case with remediation of the remaining trio of contaminated sites–two former landfills and a former fire training center–amid the massive property, which is roughly 8 percent the size of 17-square-mile Horsham Township. 

A base-wide radiological management plan is being prepared to review 18 potential sites impacted by contamination, William Lin told those in attendance at the NAS-JRB Willow Grove Restoration and Advisory Board meeting Wednesday afternoon. 

"I'd rather not give exact time frames, but not six years," Lin said, answering a question from Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Mike McGee, related to the completion of that project.

In the early part of 2014 documents would be prepared to move forward with site reviews, he said. 

Lin told Patch after the meeting that he could not provide an estimated time frame for completion of the cleanup, which began in 2000 and, according to a Navy official, could continue for another eight years.

"We don't (know) because of some of the uncertainties that are involved," said Lin, the Navy's Base Realignment and Closure  environmental coordinator and Restoration Advisory Board co-chair. 

But, before the land can leave federal hands, other matters, including site surveys, have to be carried out. 

"The surveys, actual surveys on ground can’t start until that task-specific plan and base-wide plan is approved," Lin said. "That’s for the land use control boundaries."

Lin would not say when surveying would occur. 

Land use controls determine how the property can be redeveloped based on environmental conditions, McGee said. Without knowing the boundaries for each parcel and what is permitted there, it would be difficult to begin the land transfer and subsequent redevelopment process. 

Remediating the air base

To date, three of 12 areas previously designated as being in need of remediation remain, Lin said. 

"The entire base is not a hazardous waste site," he said. 

At the site known as the Ninth Street landfill, officials are preparing a feasibility study and evaluating removal and capping alternatives, Andy Frebowitz, a project manager with Tetra Tech consultants, told the audience.

Frebowitz said that while the groundwater conditions at the former fire training facility are acceptable, "we want to try to improve that."

Next steps for doing that include the injection of Lactoil and sodium bicarbonate, as well as periodic groundwater monitoring, he said. 

The area designated as the south landfill awaits a feasibility study, but Frebowitz said that can not be completed until the results of the radiological investigation are available. 

Next steps

The HLRA, the entity appointed to oversee the land transfer and redevelopment of Willow Grove air base, first must see a draft of the Navy's Environmental Impact Statement related to the locally approved reuse plan, McGee said. 

"I'm still hoping this month," McGee said. "We certainly want to know what they say about our plan."

On Dec. 18, the HLRA's consultant will present its findings and guide the beginning stages related to transfer of the property. McGee said the board could potentially submit its economic development conveyance in January–provided that the environmental impact statement is finalized and able to be reviewed before that time. 

From there, the "Navy has to be ready to transfer property."

The first area to leave federal hands would be all the property from Maple Avenue, to and including Keith Valley Road, which comprises the shuttered airport runway and taxiways, according to McGee. That property is not impacted by remediation efforts, he said. 

However, the parcel eyed for the second and subsequent transfers are impacted by the radiological study, McGee said. Purchase terms could not be finalized until those studies are complete and a remediation plan is in place, he said. 

"We can start," McGee said of the land transfer process. "We just won't take possession of the property ... We're a long way off to agreeing to final terms."


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