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15 acres of land made ecologically safer at Little Rock AFB

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Nearly 15 acres here that was previously used as a skeet range in the 1960s, is an ecologically safer place today because of a restoration project that called for excavating 36 million pounds of contaminated soil and replacing it with more than 3,000 trees and recycled soil and mulch.

There was cause for concern when a site-wide investigation of the base revealed that the soil in the former base skeet range had high levels of lead contamination.

People are susceptible to lead contamination through air, water, soil and retail products, environmental restoration office officials said. Prolonged exposure to lead can lead to toxicity in the heart, nerves, kidneys and reproductive systems, which can lead to physical ailments such as headaches, nausea and seizures or even death.

The restoration began in September 2010, and is scheduled to be completed later in October, said Kelly Stater, the restoration project manager. The contaminated soil posed not only a health risk to humans, but could adversely affect the ecological balance of the base. The lead contamination was detrimental to animals, as well.

"The damage to the wildlife would affect people too," Stater said. "For example, the lead damages the soil and plants, the deer eat the plants and people eat deer. Removing the soil was a plus for all of us."

In place of the removed 18,000 tons of soil was a bare patch of earth ensconced by a vertical tower of trees from all ends, accessible by a small gravel-paved road divergent from the base's main concrete pathways. Stater said the area encompasses approximately 15 acres of land. Land that was empty after the soil removal.

"Fortunate for us, this base is very proactive when it comes to ecological restoration," said Terry Broach, the base interim restoration manager.

She said the base has mandated cleaning and consent orders, which makes it pretty easy to complete restoration projects.

After excavating the enormous amounts of contaminated soil, the workers put down recycled mulch in anticipation of planting trees in the vacant, newly cleansed soil, Stater said. The project was worked by an average of six contracted employees a day for more than a year, focusing on cleansing and replenishing the 15 acres of land.

The project site stands now not as a vacant spot of land with harmful contaminants in its soil, but a pasture with tree sprouts speckled throughout. Stater said the grown trees will be beneficial to the base.

"The base can sell some of the trees when they get bigger," he said. "That will produce some revenue."

Yet future revenue is only a boon to what the project has already accomplished, Stater said.

"The guys at the shooting range said that the quail over there have come back," the project manager said. "They said that the quail hadn't been there for a while."

Broach said green projects like this are beneficial to everyone in the area.

"You talk about a green project, it (doesn't) get (any) greener than this," Stater said. "We removed something potentially harmful and replaced it with something positive, and that benefits everyone. This is what restoration is all about."