WASHINGTON -- The Cape Prominence Aircraft Warning Service Station is located on an extremely remote, mountainous peninsula in the southern part of Unalaska Island in Alaska and operated as a U.S. Army Signal Corps’ fixed radar station from 1942-1945 during World War II.
Encompassing 160 acres, the upper camp sits on a high, rocky bluff, where its radar would provide early warning detection of approaching aircraft for nearby military facilities. The lower camp was nestled in a natural valley on the coastline and served as home base for Army troops stationed on the cape. The two sites were connected by a vertical tramway pulled by cables stretching over 2,400-feet long. It was the only way to transport both people and materials up the steep slope.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District was tasked with an environmental restoration project at the formerly used defense site, the goal was to remove contamination sources, both containerized and incidental contaminated soil and metallic debris, including aboveground and underground storage tanks, drums, and drum remnants. The cleanup focused on protecting human health and addressing risk to natural resources in accordance with guidelines established by the Defense Environmental Restoration Program following regulations the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regulations.
Normally this would be considered a simple clean-up project. However, the team members found themselves dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, an airline bankruptcy, harsh Aleutian Island weather, persistent fog and wind, rugged site terrain, and limited access by only boat or helicopter.
More common challenges associated with these types of projects involve the intricacies of working with regulatory agencies, vice being concerned whether the project would be delayed due to a pandemic.
“We were able to overcome some of the unforeseen challenges because we work closely with the State Historic Preservation Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association regularly. Our transparency and community relations over the years have forged a strong relationship, built on trust and our desire to comply with regulations for the greater good of the community and the environment,” said Jeremy Craner, project manager at the Alaska District.
The site is located within the Aleutian Islands Unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Under the jurisdiction and management of the USFWS, the site affords an opportunity to heighten public awareness of a sensitive ecosystem, wilderness, and wildlife concerns. Preserving the unique wilderness, revetments, and distinct landscape that makes the site recognizable as a World War II AWS was also important. Early coordination with the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office, a USACE archaeologist and technical staff provided critical quality assurance oversight to document and record discoveries following the memorandum of understanding stipulations.
The environmental restoration was completed over two field seasons, beginning in May 2019 and finishing in August 2020, despite restrictions on personnel movement due to COVID-19 and the lack of commercial flights in the Aleutians. The bankruptcy of the largest air service provider to the island also hindered the transportation of crucial colleagues and supplies. The quick-thinking team came up with contingency plans using a combination of charter flights, helicopter support, long boat rides, and strategically timed collaboration to make the process more efficient.
All told, fieldwork included the removal and disposal of 1,361 tons of petroleum-oil-lubricant contaminated soil and 4,295 pounds of metallic debris. Daily safety meetings were held between the contractors and USACE personnel, which led to an accomplishment of no incidents, accidents, or lost time during the 7,250 man hours it took to complete the project.
The total cost of the project was $2.9 million, with a cost savings of $1.5 million. Most of those savings were realized through a joint mobilization approach, using one contractor that worked on multiple projects in the Aleutian Islands. Despite the multitude of challenges, the agility and adaptation of the team to the ever-changing project conditions were vital to the successful execution of the mission, leading to the USACE Alaska District’s 2020 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award recognition for environmental restoration.