FAIRBANKS — The discovery of buried toxic waste delayed the completion and opening of the Taku Gardens housing on Fort Wainwright in 2005. Now, after years of cleanup, the 55-unit development could be ready for residents as early as October 2012, according to speakers at a town hall Tuesday on Fort Wainwright.
The top level of soil is now considered safe, although new tenants will not be able to dig wells or garden without using raised beds because of contamination deep in the ground, said Joe Malen, the Army’s cleanup manager.
The Army anticipates the private firm North Haven will operate Taku Gardens, but it is prepared if the company is not interested, said Mike Meeks, director of public works at Fort Wainwright.
“If North Haven chooses not to run the housing because of potential liability, I’ll step up and do it,” he said. “I’ll have those houses filled within 15 days.”
The study and cleanup of Taku Gardens cost more than $21 million. It began in 2005 when construction workers noticed an unusual smell in an area later found to contain toxic PCB compounds, Malen said.
During the next several years, workers studied the Army’s use of parts of the area as a dumping ground in the 1940s and 1950s.
Crews dug up nearly 8 acres, reaching depths of up to18 feet. They removed hundreds of tons of scrap metal, more than 3,300 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil and about 3,000 munition materials, including a few rockets that had propellent fuel but no live warheads. Some areas where material was removed required leveling with up to two feet of clean dirt from outside Fort Wainwright.
Some of the groundwater under the site is still considered contaminated, but because drinking water for the housing comes from elsewhere on base, this will not stand in the way of people living in the homes, Malen said.
Sentry wells were dug between Taku Gardens area and the base’s main wells to determine whether the contamination is spreading.
Restoration is now considered complete except for a plan that will determine how often the site will re-inspected for contamination, Malen said.
The 55 homes have been structurally completed since 2005. Construction on finishing details could begin as early as this summer.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.