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Air Force clean up gives former Griffiss AFB new life

  • Published
The Air Force's environmental clean-up program is hitting a high-water mark as Environmental Protection Agency officials consider removing more than 2,900 of 3,552 acres at the former Griffiss Air Force Base, N.Y., from the list of potentially hazardous sites.

After more than two decades and $138 million in clean-up costs, Air Force specialists have successfully remediated many of the potentially hazardous waste sites at the former Strategic Air Command base, making it eligible for removal from the EPA's National Priorities List. The NPL is a list of hazardous waste sites eligible for remediation funding under the EPA's Superfund program, established in 1980. The Air Force has 30 sites on the list, including the former Griffiss AFB.

The Griffiss project is only the second Air Force site to be partially delisted since the EPA launched the Superfund cleanup effort. It is also the largest total Air Force acreage delisting since 4,198 acres at Luke AFB, Ariz., were removed from the list in 2002.

"This moment marks a high point for the base, the community and the Air Force," said Bob Moore, director of the Air Force Real Property Agency here. "The remediation process takes time, money and intense effort by everyone involved. When we're able to return 2,900 acres to the community without environmental concerns, it makes it all worthwhile."

Clean-up efforts at Griffiss began before the base was placed on the NPL in 1987. In 2002, the Rome, N.Y., community built a $45 million high school on a portion of the base. The Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate and the Northeast Air Defense Sector continue to operate at the base.

In the years since closure, officials with the Griffiss Local Development Corp., and members of the local community have found new uses for parcels of the base, including a hotel, an industrial park and approximately 70 other businesses that employ about 5,600 people. 

However, marketing land listed as potentially contaminated is a tough sell. And although Air Force representatives have about 700 acres of property to continue cleaning, the Rome community now has 4.5 square miles of development potential bearing the EPA's stamp of approval.

Griffiss joins a growing list of clean-up success stories for the Air Force. Only 30 of the 1,255 sites on the priorities list are Air Force locations. To date, Air Force efforts have resulted in three installations coming off the list: Luke, Twin Cities Air Reserve Base, Minn.; and a parcel of land on McChord AFB, Wash. Ellsworth AFB, S.D., was partially delisted in 2000.

The Air Force Real Property Agency is responsible for remediation and property transfer at 40 former Air Force installations throughout the U.S. under the Base Realignment and Closure program. At the height of the BRAC process, AFRPA representatives managed 87,000 acres, or about 137 square miles of property. 

In the two decades since the first BRAC in 1988, agency officials have transferred 86 percent, or more than 116 square miles of land -- twice the area of Washington, D.C. -- back to communities for public use. Throughout the transfer process, Air Force leaders remain committed to protecting human health and the environment.

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