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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
If it seems like it’s taken a long time for the cleanup and transfer of property of the former Chanute Air Force Base to the village of Rantoul, it’s only because it has.
The base, which was one of the oldest in the United States Air Force, closed in 1993. Twenty years later, the cleanup by the Air Force and transfer continues.
The transfer of a significant amount of additional property — including land and buildings — will take place this year and could be wrapped up in 2014.
The first transfer, of 53 acres and six buildings, should be completed this spring.
It involves airport acreage used for the Rantoul National Aviation Center and airport support.
“It consists of property that kind of surrounds the airfield,” said Paul Carroll, the environmental coordinator at Chanute and a member of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
He said one of the sites is where airplanes sit at the south end of the hangars.
“It kind of wraps around where the hangars are. It’s actually part of the airfield.”
The property has been leased by the village since the mid-’90s, Carroll said.
As the parcels have been cleaned up of pollutants, they are transferred to the village.
“It’s all been cleaned up,” Carroll said. “Most of it is soil cleanup. There was a skeet range in one part. There was lead contamination and a couple of coal storage areas where there was some coal and associated contamination.”
The buildings involved a couple of structures that were used in supply, a high-bay training building called Hangar 3, located between Hangar 2 and Grissom Hall that spans 222,000 square feet.
Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl said Hangar 3 remains within the airport boundary and therefore remains part of the Federal Aviation Administration/airport jurisdiction.
“Being within the airport boundaries, any income derived from leasing or renting the building must go towards the operation of the airport and not to the village general fund,” Sandahl said. “We will hold title to the property but because of the grant assurances signed by the village years ago, we have to follow the FAA rules.”
The other buildings are located primarily on the south side of the hangar area.
“They’re really smaller buildings used mainly as storage, some smaller units used by the village of Rantoul that are pretty much vacant,” Carroll said.
There was no cleanup involved with the buildings, although there is some groundwater cleanup required adjacent to Hangar 3, the coordinator said. The groundwater was contaminated with cleaning solvents and chlorinated solvents.
“The groundwater won’t be cleaned up until later,” Carroll said. “We’ve done some soil cleanup around (Hangar 3). Both of those actions have enabled us to be able to transfer that building.”
The second transfer will encompass 180 acres. Most of the property lies west of Century Boulevard in the area of the Rantoul sports complex, where the University of
Illinois football team holds preseason practices.
“Those fields are being transferred and some other parcels in the northern part of the base around the Rantoul Business Center,” Carroll said.
Three buildings will also be transferred, including Building 720, which is being used by the village for storage; Building 46, which is the old steam plant; and Building 43, which is the old fire department.
“As soon as the economic development conveyance is signed, we’ll be ready to transfer this property,” Carroll said.
“It will be signed by the secretariat level of the Air Force. The village applied for the economic development conveyance, and they’ve been negotiating with the Air Force.”
In 2014, the Air Force will be ready to transfer the rest of the property to the village.
That will include about 320 acres, including the property in the southeast part of the base around Heritage Lake, the landfills, the Advanced Transportation and Research Engineering Laboratory, adjacent buildings and some other locations in the airfield area that are still being treated for groundwater contamination.
Carroll, who has been overseeing the environmental cleanup and transfer of former Air Force bases to municipalities for 18 years, said the Chanute cleanup has been one of the longest.
“It’s one of the first BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) bases. It has taken a very long time to get all the environmental work done getting ready to transfer,” Carroll said.
There are several reasons for that.
One is because there were many environmental problem sites at Chanute. Another is the environmental investigations were “basically started over in the 2000s,” Carroll said, because of issues with laboratory data.
“We kind of had to go back to the drawing board. I think the Air Force agreed with the EPA and the Illinois EPA to reinvestigate a lot of those sites.”
Another reason was a proposal for the base to be placed on the National Priorities List, commonly known as the Superfund for areas with extreme environmental contamination.
It was never placed on that list, primarily, Carroll said, because the Air Force and regulatory agencies worked to meet agreed-to milestones.
The National Priorities List consideration was mainly sparked by the base’s proximity to Salt Fork Creek and the landfills that were adjacent to it.
“There was contamination going into Salt Fork Creek,” which runs through the south part of the base, Carroll said.
By 2014, the cleanup of what was known as Chanute Air Force Base will be completed except for some groundwater, which Carroll said is likely to extend to 2017 or 2018, and ensuring that the landfills “are in good shape.”