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8/26/2013 6:00:00 AM
Kingman sues Corps of Engineers over dross from post-WWII smelting work
JC AMBERLYN/Miner
A large section of the tarmac at Kingman Airport and Industrial Park is unusable due to aluminum smelting operations that occurred shortly after World War II. The city has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to remove the contaminated dirt from the site.
JC AMBERLYN/Miner
A large section of the tarmac at Kingman Airport and Industrial Park is unusable due to aluminum smelting operations that occurred shortly after World War II. The city has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to remove the contaminated dirt from the site.

Doug McMurdo
Miner Staff Reporter


KINGMAN - The city has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding ground contamination at the Kingman Airport and Industrial Park.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the city of Kingman by Phoenix-based law firm Gust Rosenfeld PLC, seeks to compel the Corps of Engineers to clean up about 15 acres of airport land that was polluted shortly after World War II when roughly 5,600 surplus warplanes were smelted for their aluminum at what was then the Kingman Army Air Field and Gunnery Range.

The Wunderlich Company, a government contractor, conducted the 10-month, 24/7 smelting operation on what is now Taxiway B.

Dross, a heavy metal-contaminated byproduct of smelted aluminum, was left in mounds on the surface or buried in shallow pits and trenches.

The local, state and federal governments have been aware of the contaminated site for more than three decades and in 2000, under a Corps of Engineers contract, the Morrison Knudsen Corporation placed the dross material into eight large pits - each 40 feet wide by 200 feet long and 20 feet deep - that were then capped with an inch and a half of hot asphalt poured over eight inches of soil stabilized with lime and fly ash.

The cap failed, the tarmac in the area was ruined and pollutants continue to contaminate the site.

The lawsuit alleges the Corps of Engineers "knew or should have known" the site would be used to taxi airplanes.

Also in 2000, a study of the dross identified several contaminants, including arsenic, barium, magnesium and ammonia as "contaminants of potential concern," according to the lawsuit.

The cap failed shortly after the work was completed as it reacted violently when wet. Every time it rained the asphalt would heave up. Currently, there are several large humps in the area of the pits surrounded by red warning cones and literally thousands of much smaller upheavals throughout the site where pieces of aluminum that were never placed in the pits have reacted to rainwater.

In 2010, Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. completed a final "Cap Failure Report." The Corps of Engineers hired the firm, which determined five corrective actions were required to remedy the problem.

The study found that ammonia gas detected at the site far exceeded safe exposures per Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines of 25 parts per million. One sample detected a concentration of more than 2,600 parts per million and all but one sample exceeded the threshold. Four samples reached levels of 300 parts per million, which were considered "immediately dangerous to life and health."

After the findings were revealed, the Kingman Airport Authority contacted the Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Justice Department. The KAA asked the Corps of Engineers to remedy the situation.

To date, according to the lawsuit, neither the Corps nor the Justice Department has taken steps to do so.

The lawsuit was filed as a so-called "Citizen's Suit" under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which became an effective tool in fighting commercial polluters in the 1970s.

The city wants the federal court to order the Corps of Engineers to "take all actions necessary to abate the imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment."

The lawsuit also seeks to have the Corps of Engineers pay the city's attorney fees and costs, including for any expert witnesses that testify on behalf of the city, which owns the airport. The Airport Authority manages the KAA.

Attorney Richard Hood, who signed the lawsuit for the city, declined comment.

Airport Authority Executive Director Dave French was likewise reluctant to speak, but he did say the KAA would attempt to act as an "intervener" in the lawsuit, a designation that would allow it to make third-party filings.

When asked what he'd like to see happen, French was succinct:

"I'd like all that dross hauled away to its final resting place and the tarmac returned to usable condition."



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Related Stories:
• Feds, Kingman on track to fix heavy metal blunder at airport
• Airport dross, lawsuit on Kingman Council's to-do list
• City takes grant for rehab job at Kingman airport


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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013
Article comment by: Geoff Schob

Something does not sound right here. How long has the Kingman Airport Authority known about this and why has it taken so long to try to do something about it? It’s hard to believe that something that anyone can walk out there and see what appears to be an obvious problem has gone on for so long.

Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

What is this? An exercise in futility? Or a deliberate attempt to waste taxpayers money which would be better spent fixing the problem directly.

Read this: On Feb. 27, 2013, the United State Supreme Court issued a unanimous and important decision clarifying the statute of limitations applicable to most federal government civil penalty enforcement cases. The Court held that the five-year limitations period under 28 U.S.C. § 2462 begins to run when the government's civil penalty claim accrues, i.e., when the defendant's conduct that gives rise to the civil penalty claim occurs or is complete. The statute does not allow the government to delay the triggering of the five-year limitations period based on the so-called "discovery rule."
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