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Clearing the Dirt

Remediation, contamination checks ongoing at EPG.

The countdown is on, and with each passing day, the September 2011 deadline for changes at the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield creeps ever closer.

Work began last week on the new office for 8,500 workers in the National Geospatial-Intellgence Agency, which will consolidate three offices into one on the EPG as mandated by Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) orders issued in 2005 and signed into law in 2006.

Before anything can be built on the 800-acre site, the Army must complete a thorough clean-up of the area, ensuring the soil is safe for construction and the workers who will one day populate the area.

"We are remediating all known ranges and doing some transecting of areas that were not known to be [artillery] ranges but may have some unexploded ordinances of any kind," said Jim Turkel, chief of the Belvoir Integration Office with the Army Corps of Engineers. According to him, clean-up is underway, going well, and the surprises have been few so far.

Soldiers based at Fort Belvoir used to use the EPG as a training ground for military engineers, meaning areas exist at which vehicles were serviced, guns were fired and bombs tested and defused all over the site. Finding those sites might be tricky, as not all of them were clearly marked at all times.

As Army Corps of Engineers workers test the ground and uncover contaminated sites, they bring in earth movers to take out the dirt and remove anything that could prove dangerous, Turkel said.

However, because many areas are unknown until the contamination is discovered, the process is time consuming.

"The east side of the property, where the NGA office is going to be, is almost complete," Turkel said. "There are still some [water] monitoring wells to work around, along with some structures on the west side."

Many of those structures will be torn down and taken away as construction comes in, Turkel said, but no clear timeline is in place for when that will happen.

"The clean-up work and the construction work are two different projects," said Chris Augsburger, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman. "We're responsible for making sure the buildings go up on time."

ONE OF THE areas that has been completed for construction is a narrow stretch where the Fairfax County Parkway is planned, a right-of-way that contained two areas requiring extensive clean-up work and a gasoline tank site that was unmarked prior to being uncovered. Delays caused by soil removal at those sites have held up construction of the road, because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had to sign off on the safety of the areas before construction could begin.

According to a statement released by the Army and the EPA on July 13, more than 30,000 cubic yards of soil have been removed from the 170-acre right-of-way for the Parkway, to rid the site of between 30,000 and 100,000 gallons of gasoline that spilled there at least 30 years ago.

The Army has to meet the same standards before building the NGA offices, a requirement that had to be met before signing the land off to the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Bob Greaves, corrective action chief for the EPA in Region Three, which includes Northern Virginia.

"The same laws and regulations apply to any state, private or public contractor that stores, treats or disposes of hazardous waste, as they did with gasoline on the EPG," Greaves said, as outlined in the Resource Conservation Recovery Act of 1976.

So far, the Army has been a "cooperative" partner in the clean-up, Greaves said, in the handful of years since work on the Parkway right-of-way began.

When a problematic site is found, the Army determines the best course of action and starts to fix it right away, instead of going back at a later time to remediate several sites at once, Greaves said. That allows work to be completed thoroughly and without causing any delays in further cleaning.

"If there are no problems, we can move on," he said.

Fairfax County officials are keeping a watchful eye on progress at the EPG, as it will take the majority of the 21,000 workers expected to move into the area of Fort Belvoir and Springfield once BRAC orders are fully in place in four years.

"They’ve been testing the ground all along," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At large). "If the work isn't done yet, it's being done."

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), however, is still concerned the work will be completed in time.

"If they go about it at the same rate as the Parkway, it'll never be done in time," Kauffman said. "Maybe the difference is, this time, they've finally decided what they're going to do instead of the years they spent playing footsie over the Parkway."