BEM Systems, Inc. Leads First Performance-Based Environmental Cleanups at Alaska Air Force Bases

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Environmental consultant BEM Systems, Inc., is helping the U.S. Air Force achieve substantial savings in time and money with performance-based contracts (PBCs) at two Air Force facilities in Alaska. Performance-based contracts are designed to reduce project costs and shift risk away from government and taxpayers.

Environmental consultant BEM Systems, Inc., is helping the U.S. Air Force achieve substantial savings in time and money with performance-based contracts (PBCs) at two Air Force facilities in Alaska: a recently completed soil remediation at Elmendorf Air Force Base, in Anchorage, and a comprehensive environmental restoration now under way at the decommissioned Nikolski Radio Relay Station in the Aleutian Islands. BEM’s Alaska office, at 2000 E. 88th Ave. in Anchorage, is managing the projects, which are the first environmental restoration PBCs to be awarded by the Air Force in Alaska. BEM is partnering with remediation contractor Marsh Creek, LLC, an SBA-certified 8(a) Alaska Native Corporation.

In performance-based contracts, the contracting agency specifies project objectives, but leaves it to the contractor to find the best way to achieve them, rather than specifying how and when each milestone will be reached, as with conventional contracts. The Defense Department and other federal agencies are moving strongly to this approach as a way to give the government’s best-qualified contractors more freedom to find innovative ways to complete assignments more efficiently and at lower cost to taxpayers.

BEM won the Alaska projects in competitive bidding, under a nine-year Worldwide Environmental Restoration and Construction (WERC) contract awarded to the firm in 2004 by the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence (AFCEE).

The Elmendorf AFB cleanup, completed in 2005, addressed petroleum-contaminated soils beneath two fuel transfer pipelines, including the active jet fuel pipeline serving the base’s flightline. All removal actions and off-site transport, treatment and disposal were completed successfully without disruption of base mission activities, and BEM was able to obtain approval of the closure report and site closure certification from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation without the need for further discussions or actions.

The Nikolski Radio Relay Station site, a former Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line facility, presents some special challenges, says BEM’s Regional Director Rick Newill, P.G. The site is off the southwest end of Umnak, a treeless volcanic island with no harbor or dock, about 900 air miles from Anchorage in the western Aleutians. It lies within Alaska’s maritime climate zone, notorious for dense fogs and savage storms that can bring winds of 140 mph with horizontal rain, sleet and snow all at the same time.

The area also has another unique distinction: evidence from nearby archaeological sites shows that the village of Nikolski was first settled by the Unangan (Aleut) peoples approximately 8400 years ago, making it one of the oldest—some say the oldest—continuously occupied settlement in the world.

“The location and weather conditions at Nikolski require specialized logistical and remote-site experience for the project to be successful,” Newill says. “We are using an expedited approach as well as some innovative remediation and risk assessment approaches that we expect will make the property available for reuse on schedule, and also save the Air Force more than a million dollars.”

Discussions with local community leaders are ongoing with respect to reuse plans, but the likely redevelopment of the site would be for recreational or tourism. Issues of concern include petroleum and metals contamination and unsafe abandoned structures and debris.

BEM Systems, Inc. is an independent, employee-owned, multidisciplinary environmental engineering and information management consulting firm, headquartered in Chatham, N.J., with eight full-service offices nationwide including their recently opened Anchorage office. BEM’s environmental scientists and engineers provide a full range of environmental compliance, cleanup, prevention, computer modeling and information management, environmental restoration, and risk management services for public- and private-sector clients nationwide. For further information, see the company website at, or contact Ms. Sharon Stecker, Principal.


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