Fort Riley, Kansas

 

News

Conserving Fort Riley’s history, lands through 3 programs

By Season Osterfeld | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | October 13, 2017

     Editor’s Note: This article is part one of a four-part series on the Directorate of Public Works – Environmental.

     Archeological finds, prescribed burns, aerial sprays, contamination clean up and more are all pieces of what the staff and the Directorate of Public Works – Environmental do within the Conservation Branch.

     There are three areas of focus for those within the Conservation Branch. They include Natural Resources, Cultural Resources and Installation Restoration. Each one has a specific mission, but they work together to protect the people of Fort Riley, the history of the installation and the lands within it.

     “It’s to maintain and sustain what we have, this good training property that we have,” said Alan Hynek, Conservation Branch chief, of their mission. “That’s not by chance, it’s by good, long term management of the resources that we have.”

 

NATURAL RESOURCES

     Inside Natural Resources is a staff of researchers, biologists and more working to manage, protect and preserve the lands, waters and wildlife of Fort Riley — from protecting endangered or threatened species to conducting aerial sprays to eradicate noxious weeds and preserve Kansas prairies, the staff keep busy and look at things through long term perspectives, Hynek said.

     “The natural resources part of it, it’s managing the areas that they train in, from threatened and endangered species to hunting and fishing, agricultural out lease,” he said. “It’s a long term management of the natural resources, either prescribed burning or planting certain plants to removing plants, spraying noxious weeds. We do some research out here — actually, quite a bit of research.”

     To accomplish their mission, Natural Resources staff work with other Fort Riley, Kansas and federal organizations. To conduct prescribed burns, they work with Fort Riley Fire and Emergency Services. The relationship they have with FRFES is one they maintain so closely they have personnel embedded within FRFES.

     “We coordinate with a lot of the agencies that deal with natural resources, federal and state,” Hynek said. “Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — and they have regulatory oversight on the things that we do.”

     Hynek said Natural Resources plays a vital role in ensuring units are able to train at Fort Riley without impacts or restrictions that would come from situations such as overgrown land or devastating the native prairie.

     “A lot of that has to do with making sure that the mission is not impacted by any restrictions,” he said. “It really comes down to just making sure that the area is suitable for military training for the short and long term.”

     Without their efforts, Fort Riley would lapse on its regulations compliance and the state or federal agencies would intervene, taking control and oversight of the area themselves, Hynek said.

     However, that is a concern the Fort Riley community needn’t worry about as Natural Resources sets the standard in many ways for other organizations to look to for assistance. In 2012 and 2014 they were selected as the first place Natural Resources Team by Installation Management Command and runner up for the Department of Defense as a whole.

     “It comes to just a dedicated team here that we’ve got,” Hynek said. “Some of the regulatory agencies come to us and ask us for help, which is really pretty cool. We’ve got some research that’s discovered novel properties of some plants and animals that kept them from being listed, that’s pretty neat.”

     One of their greatest challenges, and one that each department faces, is keeping up with the continuously evolving, changing and compiling regulations from different organizations that set the requirements they must meet to remain in compliance.

     Hynek said some of these regulations have portions that contradict one another while others contain similar guidance. Despite the seemingly constant updates, he and his team recognize their importance and grow with them, changing their approaches to remain in compliance with each one.

     Despite this challenge, he said he is glad to see conservation and environmental protections becoming one of the most important concerns people look to.

     “One of the biggest things I’ve seen working out here over 27 years, it used be that environmental stuff was ‘eh, we’ll worry about it later,’ now it’s one of the first things that’s looked at,” he said.

 

CULTURAL RESOURCES

      Nestled within Cultural Resources, the staff, which include archeologists, work to protect and preserve Fort Riley’s history.

     “The Cultural Resources Program has various facets of it,” said Theresa De La Garza, historic architect and Cultural Resources Program manager. “The one I am directly and most involved in are the historic buildings. Those are part of the Army history, so even though we are supporting the mission more directly today with doing the consultations and all of that, we’re also preserving the Army history because once it goes, it goes.”

     This effort includes more than caring for the historic buildings on the installation. It also includes evaluating and surveying historical sites, such as old homesteads and Native American lands, as well as communicating with 12 different tribes.

     “The other piece is the archeology … we have an archeologist on staff and she and I work in tandem,” she said. “There’s two pieces that both of our specific domains deal with and that’s, one, is we need to know what the resources are, so she and her staff go out and survey land to find archeological sites and then once they’ve found them, they evaluate them for historical significance. And these can include Native American sites, what we call the prehistoric sites, historic sites that are both from the homesteaders that were out here and then the military and those get evaluated. Once we know which ones are historic, as we call it, and are eligible for the national registrar, those are the ones that we need to protect.”

     Cultural Resources receives oversight from the Kansas Historical Society, which acts as both their state and federal agency because of the personnel within it. In addition to oversight from them, they also work alongside the society, as well as other organizations to accomplish their mission, De La Garza said.

     These partnerships also extend to museums both on and off post. Several artifacts they have found on sites across the installation are loaned out to the museums and placed on display. Cultural Resources also has their own curation facility with temperature controlled, security lockers in the basement of building 407, she said.

     Thanks to their hard work and dedication in their relationships with Native American tribes, as well as their curations, staff at Cultural Resources participate as subject matter experts for IMCOM working groups consisting of similar programs to pass on their best practices, De La Garza said.

     However, their greatest accomplishment comes from the method they developed to streamline their review process, a system called programmatic review, she said. Previously, their review process was sent out to external agencies, but through agreements and qualifications, they are now able to do much of it in house, which enabled to do more in less time.

     “With our programmatic review, as long as we have qualified staff, which we do, we can do a lot of review in house,” De La Garza said. “It speeds up that 30 day process, cuts it down to minutes, hours, however long it takes me to turn things around, so that response time has been great.”

     When it comes time to modifying or changing a historic building or site, Cultural Resources faces their greatest challenge — avoiding what they call “adverse effects,” De La Garza said. Each time a historic building is in use, it must first be modified to bring it up to code. In order to do so, things like access ramps, sprinkler systems, elevators and more must be added. But doing so means taking away some of the historic aspects of the structure. Thus, they attempt to minimize these changes, but when adverse effects must occur, Cultural Resources has to come to an agreement with the Kansas Historical Society of what they will do to counter these changes.

     “One specifically that we had to get very creative on is building 760 down on the (Marshall Army) air field,” she said. “It’s been sitting vacant for decades and we finally got a project so we can get a small weather detachment in there for the Air Force, but it hasn’t been touched in so long. It’s great because there’s so much historic fabric there because it hasn’t been touched, but we’re going to lose a lot that hasn’t already been lost. There wasn’t much we could improve upon on the building historically, so we had to get creative. We negotiated with the Kansas Historical Society who has the (First Territorial) Capitol and they have not been able to take care of maintenance for it, so we’re going to do that because it’s low cost to us … and it’s immensely helpful to them.”

      Above all else though, De La Garza said she and her staff serve the public with their mission.

     “All the historic properties are considered public resources, so we are protecting them on behalf of the public,” she said.

 

INSTALLATION RESTORATION

     With a long history, Fort Riley has been around for many environmental changes, from horse-powered to gasoline and everything in between. The introduction of various chemicals that can be hazardous when not handled properly has affected some areas of the installation during decades when the regulations and understanding of those effects were different.

      It is the job of the Installation Restoration staff to undo those damages and prevent future contamination and pollution.

     “The purpose of our program here is the cleanup of contaminated of polluted sites,” said David Jones, Installation Restoration Program project manager. “We have 15 sites on post and the most common form of pollution of contamination is from old leaking underground storage fuel tanks, some of them going back to World War II. We’ve got three landfills here on post, an old dry cleaning facility — these are the types of sites that we have on post.”

     Jones said the program began in 1985 when Fort Riley received a priority listing from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up its lands and control polluted areas that had gone unchecked. Since then, the program has been a success.

     “We first started this program back in ’85 when Fort Riley was placed on what’s called the National Priority List and that placement was the result of the Custer Hill Landfill,” Jones said. “We went into an agreement with the EPA to essentially begin this program.”

    In addition to working with the EPA, Installation Restoration also works with the Army Corps of Engineers and other environmental organizations to accomplish their goals.

      “To clean it up we work very closely with the Army Corps of Engineers out of the Kansas City district,” Jones said. “We consider our state and federal regulators to be out partners as well. The state regulator is Kansas Department of Health and Environment and then our federal regulator is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

     With their partnerships and ongoing efforts, several of the smaller contaminated sites have been cleaned up and restored.

     “We’ve had good success on getting some of these smaller, local sites taken off, cleaned up and closed out,” he said.

     The most common cleanup method they employ is called bioremediation, Jones said. Through the process, they do things like injecting soybean oil into the ground to encourage bacteria to eat the oil and contaminates with it.

     “We have remedies, corrective actions that we employ to clean these sites up,” he said. “For example, we have, like on our underground leaking storage tanks, we actually inject into the ground soybean oil that causes bioremediation … That’s just letting the bacteria eat is up. It’s pretty simple really.”

      However, the cleanup process takes time — some requiring years of work — so it is a slow process, but one Jones said he continues to push forward with every day.

      For many sites, the cleanup conclusion is closing in, Hynek said.

     “For a while, there were a lot of sites and it was all new to everybody, trying to figure things out, but now we’re at the cusp of getting several sites cleaned up,” Hynek said. Dave’s hope is to work himself out of the job.”

      For sites that have been cleaned up and closed off, the staff inspects them and verifies everything is still in order.

     “We’ll inspect our landfills to make sure that the cap is still intact, the integrity of the landfill is good so there is no erosion or contaminated, debris coming up through the surface,” Jones said.

      For Installation Restoration staff, their greatest goal is “to protect human health. The effects of pollution and contaminated and to clean up the pollution for human health,” Jones said.