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End in Sight for Clean-Up?

Public planting event, signing ceremony planned for summer.

Officials at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Potomac can’t see anything standing in the way of completing their cleanup efforts by the end of the summer.

But on the tail end of a 15-year effort plagued by unexpected changes and delays, they spoke carefully about the timeline for closing out contamination clean-up efforts at dozens of base sites.

“Right now, it’s about a six-week planned effort to get all this removed. That assumes the weather cooperates. It assumes nothing unexpected is found, we don’t have a trucker’s strike or all the things that come up that could change that,” said Bill Spicer, co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board, which met for the 13th time April 26. The advisory board is a group of Navy and government officials and community members convened to oversee and advise on the government-mandated cleanup of contaminants on the base.

The cleanup history at the research facility formerly known as the David Taylor Model Basin dates back more than 15 years, but was renewed in 2001, when 13 clean-up sites were added to nine original sites containing contaminants such as lead, mercury, pesticide and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Of those 22 sites, 20 have been completely finished, officials said, with only a sign-off from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the drafting of “closeout documents” remaining.

The two remaining active sites are also the original two sites — the former base landfill and the former storage yard, both on the north side of the base’s water tanks, near MacArthur Boulevard.

Most of the contaminated soil and landfill waste at the sites has been excavated and the debris is leaving the site by the truckload. For the next six weeks, 30-40 trucks per day are expected to leave the site, each carrying approximately 20 tons of debris.

The truck traffic is the reason for the lane closures on the westbound Clara Barton Parkway and the temporary stop sign on the ramp from the outer loop of the Capital Beltway. Under an agreement with the National Park Service, the trucks are restricted to using the parkway weekdays 6 a.m.-3 p.m. and immediately get on the Beltway after exiting the base’s east gate.

THE FINAL PHASE of the clean-up effort has not been without its own glitches. When the advisory board last met in January, officials said they were hopeful for a quick conclusion to the clean-up even as they were involved in negotiations to terminate one of the contractors working on the site.

“We had one contractor that was doing the work and they had been given this project in the fall of 2003. And their work was … well it left something to be desired. And in the process of dealing with this particular group, the decision was finally made in January of this year to terminate that contractor for a lack of performance,” said advisory board co-chair Andrew Gutberlet of Naval Facilities Washington, the Navy command that has overseen the base clean-up. Gutberlet stressed that the termination process is ongoing, though a new contractor has been brought in.

“Since February … when we awarded that contract to the new contractor, we’ve already surpassed in two months the amount of work that the other contractor couldn’t do in a year and a half,” he said. “It was incredibly frustrating … but it really looks promising now.”

WORK ON SITES one and two should be completed by the end of June. Gutberlet has begun assembling closeout documents for all of the remaining sites and expects to present those to the Maryland Department of the Environment and the public for approval later this month. The documents essentially state that the Navy has completed planned work at the sites and finds that no further remediation steps are necessary.

One final step in the process will be to involve the outside community in a land restoration event at site one, which will be restored as a wetland area. The advisory board met with a representative of the Potomac Conservancy April 26 to discuss how to organize and promote the event, which would bring in school groups, scouting groups, and local families to plant greenery in the restored wetland.

Advisory Board members said that the event is an important way of making the clean-up efforts both transparent and tangible to the surrounding community, but base security restrictions make it logistically difficult. The event will be held on a Saturday and visitors will have to be declared U.S. citizens on a pre-approved list to enter the base.

No date has been set for the community event, but it will likely take place in late June or early July. Organizers stressed that all of the land restoration work at both of the remaining sites is covered by the site workers’ contract; although they hope for a good turnout, the restoration will be completed regardless.

The capstone of the long effort will be a signing ceremony planned for August.