MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Today's world is riddled with environmental concerns ranging from petroleum spills and destruction of habitat to global warming and ozone depletion. Fortunately, many individuals and organizations are engaged in engineering inventive ways to protect and restore the world's natural resources and commodities.
MCLB Albany's Installation Restoration Program, located within the Environmental Branch, is one such organization that has contributed significantly to the protection and restoration of natural resources located on and around the base. Local contributions were recently recognized when the base was awarded the Secretary of the Navy's Environmental Cleanup Award. This award acknowledges the three primary accomplishments of the IR Program over the last two years.
According to Capt. Keith Knutson, the IR Program is a major entity in protecting the environment through investigation and remediation of designated cleanup sites. It is the top priority of the commanding officer, base employees and local citizens to maintain the delicate balance between the heavily industrialized missions of the base, the various natural resources on the installation, and the protection of the surrounding rural and agricultural areas.
MCLB Albany was originally evaluated in 1989 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was subsequently placed on the National Priorities List in 1990. A tremendous amount of time and effort has been expanded in the IR Program's efforts to remediate all potential sources of contamination at the base. This hard work has been demonstrated by the signing of five of MCLB's six Records of Decision.
Due to the challenging geology in the vicinity, the most difficult issue to address has been groundwater contamination. Innovative technologies have allowed MCLB to deal with groundwater remediation in a safe, comprehensive manner.
"Our final Record of Decision for groundwater contamination will be signed by mid-summer," Knutson said. "This will mark the end of an 11-year cleanup effort and complete the investigative portion of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act process."
Additionally, the base has made a proactive effort to protect and provide the community with the necessary knowledge and tools to prevent on-base contamination from affecting off-base residences. This effort was exemplified by the connection of 56 Ramsey Road residents to the City of Albany's water supply.
"Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southern Division, spent $202,000 to connect the residents and ensure that all exposure pathways from on-base contamination to cause potential human health problems have been eliminated," said Michael Pearson, assistant IR program manager. The project was done as a precautionary measure because the community was concerned about contaminants.
Finally, to prevent additional contaminants from entering groundwater, the installation and preliminary evaluation of an Evapotranspiration cap as part of the Alternate Cover Assessment Program was initiated. This ongoing pilot study is a joint venture between Ecolotree Enterprises, Desert Research Institute, Harding ESE, the University of Wisconsin, MCLB Albany and the EPA. Last March, the base installed two landfill covers, each measuring 30 feet by 60 feet. One cover was packed with hard clay and the other was planted with Hybrid Poplar trees, which are a combination breed of Eastern Cottonwood and Black Cottonwood trees.
"We're trying to determine which approach will allow the least amount of surface water to percolate through the soil, eventually making its way to the groundwater," said Knutson.
Each cell is lined with a geo-membrane so water passing through the cells can be collected and measured. Probes were also placed inside each cell to measure variations in soil temperature and moisture content. The base's study is one of only two ET cap assessments that are currently underway east of the Mississippi River. "I commend the base's efforts for their forward thinking," said Eric Aitchison, an engineer with Ecolotree Enterprises.
The installation of Poplar trees as a landfill cap will not only be more cost effective, saving MCLB and the Navy nearly $6 million, but will also provide a more aesthetically pleasing landscape for wildlife and the base community.
Ecolotree personnel said that the forestall climate in Georgia may prove to be a challenging environment to grow the trees, but if the initial phases succeed, the future care will be minimal.
Also, once the Poplar trees have reached maturity, they can be selectively harvested, bringing a source of income to MCLB and, at the same time, avoid damaging the integrity of the overall ET cap.