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Travis AFB earns DOD environmental restoration award

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Dedication to using green and sustainable remediation technologies and biological processes that breakdown contaminates in groundwater has earned Travis Air Force Base, California, its first Defense Secretary Environmental Restoration Award for Installations.

The Defense Department announced the 2017 winners April 22. The DOD selected nine individual, team and installations from a total of 30 nominees from all military bases. Established in 1962, the award recognizes outstanding environmental practices that not only protect the environment, promote efficiency, and improve quality of life, but also support mission readiness, according to the news release.

“The winners’ efforts strengthen the Department of Defense's position as a resourceful environmental steward, both at home and abroad, and demonstrate our continued commitment to fulfilling mission needs through advanced environmental practices and technologies,” said James MacStravic, the Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics under secretary.

The Travis AFB program is focused on using innovative technologies to accelerate the closure of contaminated groundwater sites, reduce cleanup costs and ensure the protection of human health and the environment.

“It was an honor to win the Gen. Thomas D. White award for restoration, it’s an absolute thrill to win the secretary of defense award,” said Glenn Anderson, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Installation Support Team hydrologist. “Too bad we don’t have an award for best in country, best in the world, best in the universe. I would gladly put together the package for it.”

The restoration team won the White award at the Air Force level in March, which qualified them for the DOD competition. The team previously won the White award at the Air Mobility Command level in 2001 and 2009.

Although the award period only covered 2015 to 2016, the restoration team has built on its successes since 2008, said Lonnie Duke, the AFCEC restoration program manager.

“We fully immersed ourselves in green and sustainable remediation methods,” he said. “We started in 2008 and it’s picked up momentum. We’re using (GSR) at more and more sites.”

Duke added that winning the award was a team effort.

“We have the right team – everyone on the team is working toward the same goal,” he said.

The team includes the environmental contractor, CH2M Hill, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, three regulatory agencies and the restoration advisory board.

Anderson attributed the number of sites treated and the application of green and sustainable remediation technologies – those proven to be effective as well as technologies the team wanted to demonstrate – as the primary reasons the Travis AFB program stood apart from other installation cleanup programs.

For example, the team installed a subgrade biogeochemical reactor, which is powered by a solar panel array, to clean up the second worst chlorinated solvent source on base. The reactor – one of two built in the U.S. – is an underground structure composed of gravel and mulch that cleans the contaminated groundwater as it percolates through the reactor.

The team is also using solar panel arrays at four locations to power groundwater extraction pumps and recirculate treated water. By eliminating the electrical demand on the base’s power grid, the team is saving $37,000 annually while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 1.8 billion pounds a year.

Innovative technologies also include injecting materials into the subsurface to stimulate biological or chemical processes that break down contaminants in groundwater.

Replacing some of the traditional and costly groundwater remediation technologies also will save the base the thousands of dollars it would have cost to construct, operate and maintain such systems.

“Winning the award is a wonderful example of what you can achieve with a dedicated team working hard toward the same goal,” said Mark Smith, a restoration advisory board member and the former environmental restoration program manager at Travis AFB.

“We’re seeing the results of a performance-based contract finally coming into place,” Smith said.

Basically, a performance-based contract outlines the cleanup objectives, but does not tell the contractor how to achieve the best results. Smith also credited the regulatory agencies for allowing the team to implement some of the innovative cleanup technologies.

The relationship with the agencies is extremely critical in California since some of the state’s maximum contamination levels exceed federal levels, according to Anderson.

Additionally, water quality protection policies and requirements must be considered in the design and implementation of all cleanup actions, he said.

“To overcome these challenges, the (environmental restoration program) staff conducts planning discussions with the three regulatory agencies to finalize remedial designs and remedial action work plans that meet stringent standards,” said Anderson.

The team also holds monthly meetings and teleconferences with the regulatory agencies to promote two-way communication and foster a positive relationship. They meet twice per year with the restoration advisory board – a group of community leaders and members of the public – to ensure all cleanup activities are transparent and RAB members have an opportunity to provide feedback on proposed actions.

“The hard work, effort and ability to work with other agencies – both on and off base – brought it all together, not just to achieve this award, but also the milestones we set during the year,” said Angel Santiago, the AFCEC restoration program manager.

Travis AFB has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List since 1989. The NPL includes military and civilian locations throughout the U.S. and its territories with the most contaminants, hazardous waste or pollutants.

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