EPA settlement clears way for soccer stadium at Kincaid Park

LEAD: Group faces fine; field to be ready next year.

October 7, 2010 

A group that has been trying for years to convert an old shooting range into an artificial-turf soccer stadium at Anchorage's Kincaid Park has reached a deal with federal environmental regulators on lead contaminated soil and plans to conduct tests and cleanup next year.

The group, called the Kincaid Project Group, expects the field to be ready for matches sometime during summer 2011.

Mayor Dan Sullivan said potential quarrels over paying for the cleanup -- which he anticipated costing at least several hundred thousand dollars -- would likely be sorted out by attorneys.

The Kincaid Project Group's plans for the $3 million stadium stalled in 2008 after the group's excavators mishandled soil contaminated by bullet shards from the old biathlon shooting range, according to federal environmental regulators.

Excavators removed, stockpiled and regraded some of the contaminated dirt without regulatory approval. In 2008, regulators stepped in and work stopped. Soil testing showed that lead in some spots on the range far exceed state limits.

Lead exposure can cause brain, blood and kidney damage and is especially dangerous for children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As part of the settlement announced Thursday by the EPA, a fine of more than $63,000 will be split by the Kincaid Project Group, the Municipality of Anchorage, Land Design North and Roger Hickel Contracting Inc. The four parties must also submit a cleanup plan to the EPA within 90 days and begin assessing the site as soon as possible.

Soil sampling would begin next spring, said Peter Van Tuyn, an attorney for the Kincaid Project Group.

"We just ran out of construction season (this year), because you can't do this work if the ground's frozen," Van Tuyn said. "You want to be as quick as you can with it, but you also want to be as thorough as you can."

The total cost and timeline depend on how much -- if any -- additional lead is found at the site, Van Tuyn said. Completing construction on a safe soccer field is the ultimate goal, he said.

Sullivan was hesitant to put a precise price tag on any potential cleanup, but he said he expects it to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a minimum.

"At some point, if it's going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, at some point it has to be figured out who pays for what, and why. And we're just not to that point yet," Sullivan said.

If the city pays cleanup costs, it could use money from an emergency reserve fund and charge whomever is found to be legally responsible.

In any case, the stadium will be done in 2011, Van Tuyn said.

Starting next year, it should take four or five weeks to assess the site, Van Tuyn said. The length of any cleanup would be determined by that assessment, he said.

The settlement announced Thursday is for violations of federal hazardous waste management rules in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the EPA said.

Although the Kincaid Project Group does not admit fault in its agreement with the EPA, Van Tuyn said it agreed to a settlement to keep the project moving forward.

"We would pay a proportionate amount of that, which is twelve-and-a-half thousand dollars, a little bit more," Van Tuyn said. "And we thought, fighting the EPA over this would cost a lot more than that, we're not admitting to anything by signing the consent decree, so let's just get on with looking forward and getting this work done."

According to the EPA, the work at the old biathlon range generated about 30 tons of lead-contaminated hazardous waste soil and debris. Some was properly disposed of, the EPA said, but more cleanup must occur to make the site safe.

That initial cleanup cost the city and Kincaid Project Group about $75,000. Not counting expenses related to lead cleanup, the project has cost about $2 million of its $3 million budget, Van Tuyn said.

The soccer stadium site remains fenced off.

Find Casey Grove online at adn.com/contact/casey.grove or call him at 257-4589.

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