Cleanup program on fast track

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When Andrews Air Force Base, Md., was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List of contaminated sites in 1999, environmental restoration program managers estimated it would take until 2014 and millions of dollars to remedy the sites.

With 23 sites and 10 areas of concern, Air Mobility Command officials estimated the potential cost to remedy in place, or RIP, was as high as $180 million. Since then, the outlook for the cleanup program has changed considerably.

"We expect to reach RIP at all our restoration sites by the end of 2009," said Brian Dolan, Andrews' environmental restoration chief, "and with our performance-based strategy, we'll save money as well." 

That strategy is the Andrews AFB Environmental Restoration Performance Enhanced Plan, a streamlined process to enable the base to achieve aggressive cleanup goals with the help of the base's regulatory partners, encouraging flexibility and innovative technical solutions. 

The journey started in spring 2004, when Mr. Dolan and technical experts from the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region III, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Prince George's County Department of Health -- all facing limitations in money or manpower -- began discussing ways the base could gain efficiencies and continue to be protective of human health and the environment. 

Their talks were formalized in a four-way agreement signed by federal, state and local senior executives later that fall. The agreement focuses on several areas, including streamlining document preparation.

"We scope out material for project work plans with the EPA technical folks at the early stages, using available data as much as possible," said Mr. Dolan.

He and his technical partners meet seven to eight times a year where they review the work being done on the sites, and review document comments. 

For decision documents, the goal is to have a 60-day document review. Early drafts are sent to the whole team for concurrent review by technical and legal staffs.

"Traditionally, the process of going from a proposed plan to a record of decision can take anywhere from six to 18 months," said Mr. Dolan. In contrast, a ROD signed last November for a former fire training site went from a draft proposed plan to ROD in seven weeks. 

In an effort to eliminate agency duplication in reviewing documents, the county, state and EPA review specific aspects of the documents for more focused reviews. Prince George's County concentrates on issues affecting the local communities. 

The 17 petroleum-related sites fall under the jurisdiction of MDE's Oil Control Program. According to Mr. Dolan, eight of the petroleum sites already are closed.

"We're also working to sign decision documents with MDE to achieve 'response complete' status at four more," he said. 

The restoration team also made extensive use of field laboratories to streamline investigations. For example, in highlighting where the edges of a plume are, the Andrews AFB team is able to adjust the sampling plan with the EPA by using the sampling results as they are generated.

"We cut a lot of time that would be spent waiting for sampling analyses from an off-site lab," said Mr. Dolan. 

Using performance-based contracts also has paid dividends at Andrews AFB. A site where extensive contamination occurred from leaking fuel tanks was cleaned up and closed out in less than 24 months. 

Rick Grills of the MDE also suggested using expanded site investigations for some of the base's lower risk sites to reduce the document burden and speed data evaluation. This suggestion, coupled with real-time sampling and analysis, recently supported a site moving from the investigation phase to "No further response action planned" in less than 60 days. 

At AMC's recent environmental restoration corporate board meeting, Mr. Dolan was able to report additional progress: two RODs signed; the award of an additional performance-based contract; and a removal action completed. He expects the rest of this year and 2007 to be just as fast paced and productive in getting sites cleaned up.