Fort Leavenworth prepares for airfield flood cleanup
Water has receded around the Sherman Army Airfield hangars and parking lots, seen here Aug. 16 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Water remains on the airfield, and the entire area east of the railroad tracks remains off limits.

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Aug. 25, 2011) -- The cost of flood cleanup and future use of Fort Leavenworth's Sherman Army Airfield are unknown until inspectors can get into the facility and cleanup can begin, post officials said.

Tom Cowan, director of the Garrison Directorate of Plans, Training and Mobilization, said cleanup of the small airfield began last week after it was underwater for nine weeks.

A flood from the Missouri River caused about four or five feet to spill onto the runway earlier this summer. The flooding was caused by additional releases from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, S.D., about 330 miles north of Fort Leavenworth along the river.

Cowan said the levees along Fort Leavenworth's banks held. It was a lower easement on the north side along the railroad tracks that allowed water in, despite efforts to build up the area with sandbags, Cowan said.

"This flood was caused by the easement, and there was nothing we could do about it," he said.

In anticipation of possible flooding, personnel and equipment were evacuated from Sherman Army Airfield, leaving behind the runway and several support buildings. The airfield is surrounded by a low-lying wooded area, which is surrounded on three sides by the Missouri River.

Whether the airfield remains usable depends on the results of a runway seismology testing, which is scheduled for this winter. The runway must pass this test for airplanes to be able to land on post. Although Fort Leavenworth is about 15 miles from Kansas City International Airport, this is the only public airfield in Leavenworth County.

Cowan said Fort Leavenworth officials haven't decided what to do if the runway does not pass the test.

Cowan said they also have not determined a total cost for the cleanup project. Once inspectors are able to access damage inside the buildings, they'll be able to determine which projects have priority. Cowan said contracts will be awarded for specific, targeted needs. Insurance will not cover the damage, Cowan said, so funding must come from Installation Management Command.

Access to the airfield is restricted because of potential environmental hazards. Munson Army Health Center's industrial health is testing air samples before and after the cleanup to check for chemical contaminants that might be released as a result of buildings being saturated with water or other health concerns, said Zachary Price, industrial hygienist.

Price said MAHC is testing for lead, asbestos, mold and bacteria.

"Any potential risks would be limited to the airfield," Price said. "We don't suspect there will be any issue."

Additionally, Cowan said, snakes and other wildlife have taken over the muddy airfield and buildings. All workers assisting with cleanup efforts are required to have updated tetanus and hepatitis A and B shots, and wear protective gear.

Cowan said Fort Leavenworth officials had warning before the flooding started earlier in the summer and were able to empty the fuel tanks at the airfield and conduct other preparations in accordance with disaster planning. This area also flooded during the 1993 Missouri Flood; however, Cowan said that flood was different. In 1993, the airfield was under twice as much water, but the flood lasted only a few weeks.

Cowan said one difference was the heavy rainfall locally caused flooding.

"(In 1993) it was a local flood, not a river-induced flood," he said. "Saturation was everywhere. But this time, the ground was dry."

Cowan said a recent levee breach on the south side of the airfield is helping cleanup efforts, acting as a drain for water and fish.

The Missouri River was measured at 26.9 feet Aug. 23, according to the National Weather Service. The flood stage for Fort Leavenworth is 20 feet.

Page last updated Thu August 25th, 2011 at 10:52