Air Force cleanup going full steam ahead at former Williams AFB

  • Published
  • By Linda Geissinger
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
More than 50 people gathered at the former Williams Air Force Base here March 24 to celebrate accelerated cleanup using an innovative steam-enhanced process and to find out more about the new technology now in place and removing jet fuel from soil and groundwater.

Representatives from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality were on hand to laude the last and largest cleanup project at Williams, not only for its ability to clean up the site by removing fuel deep below ground, but also for its ability to complete the job much quicker.

"What was going to take hundreds of years will now be completed in a matter of decades," said Robert Moriarty, director of AFCEC's Installations Directorate. "Even better, the majority of the fuel will be removed in just 13 months."

Other officials who spoke at the event included Enrique Manzanilla, director of the superfund division, U.S. EPA Region IX, and Laura Malone, director of the waste programs division, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Both applauded the Air Force's commitment to the cleanup and recognized the importance of teamwork to achieve exceptional results.

Community participation was noted by Manzanilla who thanked the Williams Restoration Advisory Board members for their contribution to the effort.

Speaking for the board, Len Fuchs, community co-chair of the Williams RAB, shared his experience and perspective on the former base's  redevelopment. He described the remarkable transformation from a military complex to a civilian mixed-use campus, and credited its success to the vision of the community.

"Once we had the vision of an Arizona State University campus here," he said, "we were on a fast track for success. Then the airport came," he explained, mentioning the creation of the Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, "and everything else from there fell into place."

The star of the event was the newly operational Steam Enhanced Extraction technology. A grid of above-ground pipes and large system components was on display just behind the speaker's podium, offering the audience a view of the complexity of the project.

Last year, the Air Force selected the steam enhanced method, with regulatory agency concurrence, and construction was completed in September 2014. It differs from more commonly used cleanup methods because it injects steam below the surface to mobilize fuel for extraction, treatment and recycling.

Additionally, it is more effective at reaching trapped fuel and providing significantly faster removal.

The process is carefully calibrated, with overall extraction exceeding steam injection to ensure control and removal of the fuel. The process takes place more than 160 feet below ground and is monitored to ensure continued protection of human health and the environment.

The former Williams AFB played a strategic role in America's aviation history. Over a span of 52 years, more than 26,500 men and women earned their wings at Williams, the Air Force's leading pilot training facility. The base was active from 1941 until its closure in 1993.

The former base is now home to a thriving airport, rapidly growing college campuses and other businesses bringing more than 10,000 jobs to the former base.

In the background of the successful redevelopment, the Air Force has continued an aggressive environmental cleanup program. Past problems from spills, leaking tanks and pipelines, as well as military operations, have all been addressed in environmental records of decision.

To date, the Air Force has spent more than $93 million on the cleanup, and will continue to operate groundwater and soil cleanup systems to completion. As a result of these activities, the Air Force has transferred most of the property, 3,892 acres of the former base's 4,043 acres, to the local community for reuse.