Work continues to pick up the pieces of the failed U.S. Army rocket that exploded moments after launch from Narrow Cape three weeks ago, and the rocket range remains off-limits to the public. In fact, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Jade Gamble, not even state inspectors have been allowed in to determine the environmental impact or to issue any sort of update.
“No there hasn’t been. We don’t have a lot of information on it at this point. It’s been a fairly low public health risk to this point, so we just haven’t put out any type of sit-rep for it.”
“Sit-Rep” is short for situation report, which the DEC issues for pretty much every incident that could affect the environment, including fuel spills. And though it was fuel that did scatter around the Kodiak Launch Complex, it is very different than the standard diesel fuel spill that DEC regularly reports on.
“Right now they’re working on collecting that material and dealing with that material, and we don’t have an estimated time at this point. It may take a bit to do the sampling and get a work plan in place. So this is something a little bit unique to deal with on Kodiak.”
Dozens of square miles of tundra, grassland and wetlands used by humans, bison and cattle are closed off. Berry-picking especially is a common traditional use on the rolling hills surrounding the KLC, but Gamble said it’s not known yet how any residue from the solid rocket fuel will affect the area.
“From what I’ve seen so far from the of the material safety data sheets, it appears it’s not a high-risk type residue. However they are collecting all that residue. It leaves kind of an ash type residue and they are collecting that. And then they will use newer explosives – and in a controlled situation – detonate and burn the rest so that it’s completely burned and then they’ll be collecting it and disposing of it.”
She said the DEC, along with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and perhaps the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will determine when the land is once again fit for its traditional uses. However, the testing of environmental cleanliness will be done by the Army or their contractors.
“We do not do the testing. We would require the responsible party to do the testing and then we would review those results. And once we have deemed that there’s not a public health risk or environmental health risk we would turn that project over to the Department of Natural resources, as the land managers. And then they will be looking at it for reclamation or if there’s anything to do any further clean up or reseed areas or those types of things if need be.”
Gamble did not have a timeline for clean up or reclamation of the land.
In the meantime, the Federal Aviation Administration has opened the public comment period for Alaska Aerospace Corporation’s plan to build a third launch pad at Narrow Cape, this one capable of sending larger rockets into space using liquid rocket fuel. We’ll have more on that tomorrow.