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Environmental Issues Cloud Base Reuse Plans

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Dec. 11, 1996 – Before a closed base can be redeveloped, the military service that operates the base must agree to clean up the environment. This and the availability of water and other utilities at reasonable cost can make or break redevelopment efforts.

Each of these issues came into play with the announcement Kelly Air Force Base will close July 13, 2001.

Base Closure and Realignment Commission rules require the environmental impact study up front. For installations as old as Kelly, which dates back to the early 1900s, there's much to study and commit to cleaning up.

"Kelly has been a major industrial complex for a long time, and handling of contaminants hasn't always been as good as it is currently," said Paul Roberson. He is executive director of the Greater Kelly Redevelopment Corporation, a nonprofit group formed by the city to oversee Kelly's reuse.

"The Air Force is performing a baseline study of existing contamination. Then the federal government retains responsibility to clean up whatever contamination occurred -- no matter how long it takes. Even after they turn over land to us, any contamination they may have caused they're still responsible for cleaning up."

Companies interested in moving onto Kelly want to know the environmental condition. "Liability for the environment is a big issue for them," Roberson said. "Every company we've talked to has indicated they will do their own testing to make sure the Air Force baseline study matches what they find."

Potential commercial users of Kelly property also want to know about the availability and cost of utilities. Moderate winters with correspondingly low heating costs and the ability to work outdoors yearround are pluses. Water's another story.

Kelly's water supply comes entirely from the Edwards Aquifer, an underground water supply that also supports San Antonio and much of the surrounding area. For years, environmental groups have sought restrictions on pumping water from the aquifer, claiming overuse threatens endangered wildlife. Prolonged droughts, such as the one much of Texas experienced in 1996, produced new pumping restrictions. Uncertainty about the availability of water for industrial use could hamper Kelly redevelopment, Roberson said.

"We're committed to complying with whatever pumping restrictions are imposed," he said. "We're also committed to finding an alternative source for water." Of primary interest is Kelly's own industrial waste water, which Roberson said could be reused.

"Right now, water pumped on Kelly and used in the industrial process is treated and dumped into Leon Creek," he said. "That water is perfectly usable for industrial purposes, and we're seeking funding to build a distribution system to reuse it. That would allow us to reduce pumpage from the aquifer by 40 percent."

Also, the San Antonio Water System is building a pipeline from a water treatment plant south of Kelly to the northwest part of the city. "That pipeline will run right by Kelly, and the city has agreed to build a distribution system onto Kelly so we can use their reuse water, too.

"With these commitments," Roberson said, "we are in very good shape to continue full bore with Kelly redevelopment."

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