Cleanup of contaminated WWII military sites on Unalaska could start next year

An old military structure near the water.
Military sites, ranging from abandoned pill boxes to quonset huts, are scattered all over the island. Many pose no threat and are popular tourist attractions. (Theo Greenly/KUCB)

Unalaska may be one step closer to cleaning up some of the contaminated military sites left over from World War II.

The military sites ranging from abandoned pill boxes to quonset huts are scattered all over the island. Many of the areas pose no threat and are popular tourist attractions. But others have been classified as hazardous, things like underground storage tanks used to store petroleum and unexploded munitions.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refers to these sites as Formerly Used Defense Sites or, more simply, FUDS. And they’ve been working to clean them up in the Unalaska area for decades, but it’s been a long, slow road, saidproject coordinator Rena Flint.

“The restoration history in this area is very, very, very long. So we’re reframing all the history, we’re trying to put it into bite-sized pieces,” Flint said. “We’re at a jumping off point right now.”

Flint’s job covers the Amaknak FUDS, a 190,000-acre area across Unalaska and Amaknak Islands.

While the FUDS cleanup program began in 1989, local efforts slowed in recent years.

But last year, a new group of community members was formed to determine the best strategy for moving forward. Now that plans are in place for specific sites, Flint said the corps is more likely to approve funding to execute the cleanup at those locations.

Police Chief Jay King is one of the group’s members who helped determine which sites to tackle first. They weighed hiking areas and popular beaches, but ultimately decided to put the Unalaska Valley at the top of the list, where many of the city’s families reside.

“Trying to make sure that I serve and protect doesn’t necessarily mean always fighting crime,” King said. “It also means making sure the environment and the surroundings are safe for families.”

Flint said cleanup of underground storage sites in the valley could begin as early as next summer if the corps approves funding. She anticipates they will. When that happens, the corps will move in with machinery to start removing contaminated soil.

While individual projects could be completed in about a week, the overall progress of the entire area will depend on funding.

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